2023 books read

In 2023, I read 50 books:

Row 1: Call the Canaries Home | Hallowe'en Party | Here in the Dark | A Murder Yule Regret | A Treasury of African-American Christmas Stories | A Good Neighborhood 
Row 2: Fight Night | The Radcliffe Ladies’ Reading Club | After the Forest | Mortuary Confidential | The Marriage Plot | Talk Talk 
Row 3: Redemption | Tom Lake | The Rise: A Short Story | Butcher on the Moor | The Professor and the Madman | These Precious Days 
Row 4: Fortune | Mississippi Sissy | The Woman in the Library | The Authenticity Project | Rules of Civility | Musical Theatre for Dummies
Row 9: North to Paradise | The Next Girl

Ratings legend:

★★★★★ Completely enthralling, couldn’t put it down. and/or More than just entertaining (e.g., educational, enlightening). Would highly recommend.
★★★★☆ Really great book in all respects with perhaps some minor flaws. Would definitely recommend.
★★★☆☆ Average. An entertaining read but probably forgettable. Might or might not recommend.
★★☆☆☆ Finished, but did not like. Would not recommend.
★☆☆☆☆ Abandoned before finishing, usually because it was poorly written or just uninteresting to me.

The books I read in 2023—summary

Clicking on the title of a book will take you to its detailed entry further down on the page, which contains a description of the book and some thoughts I had about it.

Number Title Author Pages Duration Rating Genres
50 Call the Canaries Home Laura Barrow 299 12/28/23 – 12/30/23 (3 days) ★★★★★ fiction, mystery, family, southern
49 Hallowe’en Party Agatha Christie 268 12/27/23 – 12/28/23 (2 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, mystery, crime, Halloween
48 Here in the Dark Meagan Lucas 224 12/25/23 – 12/26/23 (2 days) ★★★★★ fiction, short stories, dark
47 A Murder Yule Regret Winnie Archer 294 12/20/23 – 12/24/23 (5 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, cozy mystery, Christmas crime
46 A Treasury of African-American Christmas Stories Bettye Collier-Thomas 248 12/15/23 – 12/17/23 (3 days) ★★★★★ historical fiction, African-American, race, short stories, Christmas
45 A Good Neighborhood Therese Anne Fowler 328 12/10/23 – 12/14/23 (5 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, family, race, coming of age
44 Fight Night Miriam Toews 255 11/29/23 – 12/06/23 (8 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, family, mental health, humor, Canada
43 The Radcliffe Ladies’ Reading Club Julia Bryan Thomas 384 11/25/23 – 11/27/23 (3 days) ★★★★☆ historical fiction, coming of age, women’s issues, books about books
42 After the Forest Kell Woods 370 11/19/23 – 11/24/23 (6 days) ★★★☆☆ fiction, fantasy, retellings, witches, romance, fairy tales
41 Mortuary Confidential: Undertakers Spill the Dirt Todd Harra 257 11/12/23 – 11/14/23 (3 days) ★★☆☆☆ nonfiction, death, memoir, humor
40 The Marriage Plot Jeffrey Eugenides 406 10/26/23 – 11/10/23 (16 days) ★★★★★ literary fiction, romance, philosophy, religion, mental health, books about books
39 Talk Talk T. Coraghessan Boyle 340 10/17/23 – 10/22/23 (6 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, thriller, crime, identity theft
38 Redemption Deborah J. Ledford 363 10/14/23 – 10/17/23 (4 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, mystery, thriller, crime
37 Tom Lake Ann Patchett 352 10/07/23 – 10/09/23 (3 days) ★★★★★ literary fiction, historical fiction, romance, family
36 The Rise: A Short Story Ian Rankin 86 10/03/23 – 10/03/23 (1 day) ★★★★☆ fiction, mystery, short stories
35 Butcher on the Moor Ric Brady 217 09/29/23 – 09/30/23 (2 days) ★★★★★ fiction, mystery, crime
34 The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary Simon Winchester 242 09/19/23 – 09/23/23 (5 days) ★★★★★ nonfiction, history, biography, language, books about books
33 These Precious Days Ann Patchett 320 09/17/23 – 09/19/23 (3 days) ★★★★★ nonfiction, essays, memoir, short stories
32 Fortune Ellen Won Steil 347 09/13/23 – 09/16/23 (4 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, mystery thriller
31 Mississippi Sissy Kevin Sessums 305 08/27/23 – 09/08/23 (13 days) ★★★★★ nonfiction, memoir, LGBT, queer, gay, autobiography
30 The Woman in the Library Sulari Gentill 460 08/22/23 – 08/23/23 (2 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, mystery, thriller, books about books
29 The Authenticity Project Clare Pooley 478 08/19/23 – 08/21/23 (3 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, romance, chick lit
28 Rules of Civility Amor Towles 556 08/14/23 – 08/19/23 (6 days) ★★★★★ historical fiction, literary fiction, New York
27 Musical Theatre for Dummies Seth Rudetsky 374 07/30/23 – 08/07/23 (9 days) ★★★★★ nonfiction, theater, musicals
26 Other People’s Lives J.E. Rowney 180 07/29/23 – 07/30/23 (2 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, psychological thriller, suspense
25 T is for Trespass Sue Grafton 422 07/25/23 – 07/26/23 (2 days) ★★★★★ fiction, crime, mystery, detective, suspense
24 There’s No Coming Back from This Ann Garvin 300 07/21/23 – 07/24/23 (4 days) ★★★☆☆ womens fiction, contemporary, romance
23 Broadway Butterfly Sara DiVello 432 07/04/23 – 07/11/23 (8 days) ★★★☆☆ historical fiction, mystery, thriller, true crime
22 The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake Aimee Bender 292 06/23/23 – 07/02/23 (11 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, magical realism, food, coming of age
21 The Way They Were: How Epic Battles and Bruised Egos Brought a Classic Hollywood Love Story to the Screen Robert Hofler 296 06/10/23 – 06/14/23 (5 days) ★★★☆☆ nonfiction, film, media tie-in, history
20 The Book Club On Waverly Lane Rachel Hanna 236 06/06/23 – 06/07/23 (2 days) ★★★☆☆ fiction, romance, books about books, southern
19 Scattered All Over the Earth Yōko Tawada 219 05/21/23 – 06/05/23 (16 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, Japan, science fiction, dystopia, language
18 Cathedral Raymond Carver 230 05/15/23 – 05/20/23 (6 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, short stories, literature, classics
17 The Paris Apartment Lucy Foley 360 05/08/23 – 05/13/23 (6 days) ★★★☆☆ fiction, mystery, suspense
16 Bellfield Hall Anna Dean 300 04/26/23 – 05/02/23 (7 days) ★★★★☆ historical fiction, mystery, British literature
15 Hemingway’s Daughter Christine M. Whitehead 290 04/19/23 – 04/24/23 (6 days) ★★★★★ historical fiction
14 Something Bad Wrong Eryk Pruitt 440 04/04/23 – 04/10/23 (7 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, mystery, suspense
13 Lessons in Chemistry Bonnie Garmus 400 03/21/23 – 03/23/23 (3 days) ★★★★☆ historical fiction, feminism, romance
12 The Maid’s Diary Loreth Anne White 369 03/07/23 – 03/13/23 (7 days) ★★★★★ fiction, psychological thriller, mystery
11 Anxious People Fredrik Backman 336 02/20/23 – 02/23/23 (4 days) ★★★★★ fiction, mystery, humor
10 Spare Prince Harry 410 02/24/23 – 03/04/23 (9 days) ★★★★★ nonfiction, memoir, mental health
9 Necessary Lies Diane Chamberlain 352 02/17/23 – 02/18/23 (2 days) ★★★★★ historical fiction, poverty, healthcare
8 Medicare Demystified Ronald Kahan, MD 232 02/13/23 – 02/17/23 (5 days) ★★★★★ nonfiction, healthcare, insurance
7 The Last Mrs. Parrish Liv Constantine 400 02/08/23 – 02/12/23 (5 days) ★★★★★ fiction, mystery, psychological thriller
6 When Brains Dream: Exploring the Science and Mystery of Sleep Antonio Zadra (author), Robert Stickgold (translator) 336 02/01/23 – 02/06/23 (6 days) ★★★★☆ nonfiction, science, psychology, neuroscience
5 The Thursday Murder Club Richard Osman 463 01/23/23 – 01/28/23 (6 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, mystery, crime
4 Lucy by the Sea Elizabeth Strout 286 01/19/23 – 01/21/23 (3 days) ★★★★★ fiction, family, pandemic, romance
3 Life Will Be the Death of Me:… and You Too! Chelsea Handler 256 01/08/23 – 01/10/23 (3 days) ★★★☆☆ nonfiction, memoir, humor, mental health
2 North to Paradise Ousman Umar 140 01/04/23 – 01/05/23 (2 days) ★★★★★ nonfiction, memoir, African culture, travel, education
1 The Next Girl Carla Kovach 352 01/01/23 – 01/03/23 (3 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, mystery, crime, thriller

The books I read in 2023—details

Book #50
Call the Canaries Home book cover
Book: Call the Canaries Home Author: Laura Barrow
Pages: 299 Duration: 12/28/23 – 12/30/23 (3 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: fiction, mystery, family, southern
📕10-word summary: Three sisters reconnect facing the unresolved loss of their sibling.
🖌6-word review: Compelling unraveling of familial emotional trauma.
Description:* Three estranged sisters reconnect in their Louisiana hometown to face an unresolved past. Savannah was 4 years old when her twin sister, Georgia, went missing from their small Louisiana town, fracturing their family. 28 years later, Savannah convinces her estranged older sisters, Rayanne and Sue Ellen, to honor the pact they made as children and retrieve the time capsule they buried in their old backyard. Sifting through the artifacts, they come across a photograph taken on the day Georgia disappeared and spot a familiar woman lingering in the background. While Sue Ellen and Rayanne want to move on with their lives, Savannah is determined to find the woman—and perhaps a clue to the past. When old tensions, rivalries, and memories resurface, the sisters must reconsider what they thought they knew about that fateful day, about each other, and about themselves. On their search to uncover what happened to Georgia, each of them will discover what their grandmother, Meemaw, has known all along: family is everything.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I chose this book as my June first reads offering, which provides free early access to an editors’ pick from Amazon Prime. I loved this book. There were a lot of characters in the beginning, but I cared enough about them to create a quick file with their names and relationships in it, which I stopped referencing about a 4th of the way into the book. The most compelling part of the story to me was when the 3 sisters each revealed what was so painful to them growing up, each assuming much of it was about how they treated each other, but when it was all said in done mostly dealt with how each of them were trying to process their own guilt with regards to the disappearance of their other sister who disappeared in a lake one day when she was 4 years old. There are strong, strong female characters in the 3 sisters and their grandmother (“Meemaw”), who essentially raised them. I will probably make this a Mostly Social Book Club book some time in 2024.

Book #49
Hallowe'en Party book cover
Book: Hallowe’en Party Author: Agatha Christie
Pages: 268 Duration: 12/27/23 – 12/28/23 (2 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, mystery, crime, Halloween
📕10-word summary: Bobbing-for-apples game ends with the death of a compulsive liar.
🖌6-word review: Multiple murders. Annoying spelling of Hallowe’en.
Description:* At a Halloween party, Joyce—a hostile thirteen-year-old—boasts that she once witnessed a murder. When no one believes her, she storms off home. But within hours her body is found, still in the house, drowned in an apple-bobbing tub. That night, Hercule Poirot is called in to find the “evil presence.” But first he must establish whether he is looking for a murderer or a double-murderer…*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: In spite of the fact that the annoying apostrophe in the book’s title originated to take the place of the omitted “v” from the original All Hallows Even—before it finally evolved to just Halloween—I don’t like it, so I withheld one star in my rating. Just kidding. As much as I love Agatha Christie in general, and her Hercule Poirot character specifically, there was a series of murders in this book whose connection I found a little convoluted. If at the end, I have to think back, “Now how was that person or couple connected to that other person or couple” or “which event happened to which person or people” or “how was this situation connected back to that situation,” then I take off “points” in my rating. This book was one of those. But, of course, even a 4-star-rated Agatha Christie book is worth reading.

Book #48
Here in the Dark book cover
Book: Here in the Dark Author: Meagan Lucas
Pages: 224 Duration: 12/25/23 – 12/26/23 (2 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: fiction, short stories, dark
📕10-word summary: Dark short stories exploring poverty, addiction, motherhood and social justice.
🖌6-word review: Exceptional storytelling. Mercifully, no Hollywood endings.
Description:* This first collection from award-winning author Meagan Lucas, is a gritty genre-blending wallop of short stories, set mostly in Southern Appalachia, that explore the female experience of lawlessness. Lucas tackles, with unsettling honesty: poverty, addiction, motherhood, and social justice in an increasingly troubled cultural climate. These are character-driven stories about crime, but less a who-done-it mystery and more a meditation on how the vulnerable navigate a world devoid of true justice. Unflinching in its gaze, Here in the Dark is an ambitious collection from a bold and empathetic storyteller. Perceptive, intimate, and brave, these sixteen stories encompass shame and forgiveness, loss and redemption, oppression and revolution, and signal a new way of thinking about power and trauma.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: A friend of mine won this book in a raffle at a literary event we both attended. She already had the book, so she give it to me. I loved this book. I like dark stories, but not with a lot of blood, guts, and gore, which these stories stayed away from for the most part. Surprisingly, there were enough editing “misses”—3 alone in the last story—that I checked to see if this was an advanced copy of the book. It was 16 short stories and for something different, I’ve written a 10-word summary and a 6-word review for each:

Voluntary Action
10-word summary: Police officer’s stuck between a rock and a hard place.
6-word review: Told such that empathy comes easily.
Picking the Carcass
10-word summary: Desperate, single-mother addict dissects bodies for gold nuggets to survive.
6-word review: Ambiguity: magical realism or unreliable narrator?
The Only Comfort
10-word summary: Bereft man clings to a bearable version of his reality.
6-word review: Interesting twists in a sad tale.
10-word summary: A little girl’s called crazy and she just might be.
6-word review: An eye-catching, cringe-worthy sequence of events.
Sitting Ducks
10-word summary: Basement prisoners watch hurricane water rise then start seeping in.
6-word review: A “what if” situation explored plausibly.
You Know What They Say About Karma
10-word summary: Plan by woman in abusive relationship backfires—figuratively and literally.
6-word review: Starts dark. Gets darker. Ends darkest.
10-word summary: Daughter’s drug addiction wreaks havoc on family until it doesn’t.
6-word review: Story nicely summed up with allegory.
10-word summary: Woman has visions of babies for a very dark reason.
6-word review: A short, short story with impact.
The Monster Beneath
10-word summary: A deeply buried secret surfaces solving two 30-year-old disappearance mysteries.
6-word review: “Then” and “now” stories that deliver.
Glass Houses
10-word summary: An “un-raptureable” Lesbian helps the left-behind child of religious neighbors.
6-word review: A little heavy-handed, but ultimately satisfying.
Molasses in Winter
10-word summary: Described as “very, very fat,” rape witness doesn’t come forward.
6-word review: A commentary on society’s body shaming.
Hell, or High Water
10-word summary: Kidnapped woman with Stockholm’s syndrome is abandoned in the woods.
6-word review: I found it hard to follow.
Porch Light Salvation
10-word summary: An emotionally and physically abused woman retaliates by doing nothing.
6-word review: Intense tension devolves into comforting calm.
Frog in a Pot
10-word summary: Truly bizarre story in which limbs and digits become currency.
6-word review: It’s The Handmaid’s Tale meets Misery.
And Then the Forest Will Burn Down
10-word summary: Woman in bad marriage escapes to a job of seclusion.
6-word review: Underlying inquiry into alone vs. lonely.
Here in the Dark
10-word summary: Cora can’t win for losing—in neither love nor life.
6-word review: Would be an “action thriller” movie.

Book #47
A Murder Yule Regret book cover
Book: A Murder Yule Regret (A Bread Shop Mystery #7) Author: Winnie Archer (pen name for Melissa Bourbon)
Pages: 294 Duration: 12/20/23 – 12/24/23 (5 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, cozy mystery, Christmas crime
📕10-word summary: Female photographer-cum-detective encounters not one, but two, holiday party murders.
🖌6-word review: Good holiday read. Includes storyline recipes.
Description:* A holiday costume party in the sleepy coastal town of Santa Sofia could be just the boost Ivy needs for her fledgling photography business. At the party, Ivy enters a Victorian fantasy come to life, all courtesy of the fabulous Ms. Fox. Ivy gets to play shutterbug while hanging with Scrooge, Marley, the Cratchits, and more classic Dickens characters. But what begins as the best of times turns out to be the very worst for one of the party guests—a tabloid journalist with more enemies than Ebenezer himself. When the man’s body is found sprawled across the jagged rocks below the house, the fingers begin pointing at Eliza. Meanwhile, Ivy gets roped into helping prove the starlet’s innocence. Her festive photos are now official evidence—and the Ghosts of Christmas Present could mean the party for Eliza is over, once and for all.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I won this book in a raffle at a literary event—Noir at the Bar at the Yonder Bar in Hillsborough, NC—at which an impressive number of local writers shared their work. The author of this book was one of the readers, although she read an excerpt from another of her books, not this one. This is a classic mystery novel with the classic approach of exposing enough information about several characters to raise their legitimacy as suspects, before zeroing in on the actual “who done it.” At the center of the story is a bread shop that also caters parties, hence the “bread shop mystery” in the subtitle, and the recipes are a couple of the baked goods and beverages they talk about in the story.

Book #46
A Treasury of African-American Christmas Stories book cover
Book: A Treasury of African-American Christmas Stories Author: Bettye Collier-Thomas
Pages: 248 Duration: 12/15/23 – 12/17/23 (3 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: historical fiction, African-American, race, short stories, Christmas
📕10-word summary: Christmas-themed stories and poems by African-American journalists, activists, and writers.
🖌6-word review: Sometimes-painful stories but totally worth reading.
Description:* A collection of Christmas stories written by African-American journalists, activists, and writers from the late 19th century to the modern civil rights movement. Back in print for the first time in over a decade, this landmark collection features writings from well-known black writers, activists, and visionaries such as Pauline Hopkins, Langston Hughes, and John Henrik Clarke along with literary gems from rediscovered writers. Originally published in African American newspapers, periodicals, and journals between 1880 and 1953, these enchanting Christmas tales are part of the black literary tradition that flourished after the Civil War. Edited and assembled by esteemed historian Dr. Bettye Collier-Thomas, the short stories and poems in this collection reflect the Christmas experiences of everyday African-Americans and explore familial and romantic love, faith, and more serious topics such as racism, violence, poverty, and racial identity. Featuring the best stories and poems from previous editions along with new material including “The Sermon in the Cradle” by W. E. B. Du Bois, this book celebrates a rich storytelling tradition and will be cherished by readers for years to come.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: This book was well constructed in that it started off each short story or poem with some background on the author (e.g., what they did, educational background, where they’d been published), followed by the publication history of the specific story/poem about to be told, followed by some context as to when and where the story was taking place and the themes or issues the author was commenting on in the writing. My favorites were: The Christmas Reunion Down at Martinsville, A Christmas Party That Prevented A Split in the Church, Three Men and a Woman, Santa Clause is a White Man, and White Christmas.” I found the book to be both educational (albeit painful reading at times) and entertaining, and it was a good time of the year to read it.

Book #45
A Good Neighborhood book cover
Book: A Good Neighborhood Author: Therese Anne Fowler
Pages: 328 Duration: 12/10/23 – 12/14/23 (5 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, family, race, coming of age
📕10-word summary: Mixed-race (she white, he biracial), teen couple’s lives change forever.
🖌6-word review: Interesting “Greek chorus.” Refreshing, untraditional ending.
Description:* In Oak Knoll, a verdant, tight-knit North Carolina neighborhood, professor of forestry and ecology Valerie Alston-Holt is raising her bright and talented biracial son. Xavier is headed to college in the fall, and after years of single parenting, Valerie is facing the prospect of an empty nest. All is well until the Whitmans move in next door—an apparently traditional family with new money, ambition, and a secretly troubled teenaged daughter. Thanks to his thriving local business, Brad Whitman is something of a celebrity around town, and he’s made a small fortune on his customer service and charm, while his wife, Julia, escaped her trailer park upbringing for the security of marriage and homemaking. With little in common except a property line, these two very different families quickly find themselves at odds: first, over an historic oak tree in Valerie’s yard, and soon after, the blossoming romance between their two teenagers..*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: This was a Mostly Social Book Club book. I liked that it was set in North Carolina, which made me check the author’s background to find that she lives in North Carolina and has both a BA and an MFA from NC State University. It’s one of those books that gets my cackles up, though, with a straight, white, racist privileged person who uses “the good old boy network” and wealth to get what he wants. I liked the omniscient narrator, who referred to itself as “we,” but was clearly acting as a Greek chorus representing the townspeople. The plot moved along at a nice clip, and I was pleased with how it all wrapped up.

Book #44
Fight Night book cover
Book: Fight Night Author: Miriam Toews
Pages: 255 Duration: 11/29/23 – 12/06/23 (8 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, family, mental health, humor, Canada
📕10-word summary: 9-year-old Swiv essentially caretakes both her mother and her grandmother.
🖌6-word review: Joyously experienced existentialism. Comical, tragic, poignant.
Description:* Fight Night is told in the unforgettable voice of Swiv, a 9-year-old living in Toronto with her pregnant mother, who is raising Swiv while caring for her own elderly, frail, yet extraordinarily lively mother. When Swiv is expelled from school, Grandma takes on the role of teacher and gives her the task of writing to Swiv’s absent father about life in the household during the last trimester of the pregnancy. In turn, Swiv gives Grandma an assignment: to write a letter to “Gord,” her unborn grandchild (and Swiv’s soon-to-be brother or sister). “You’re a small thing,” Grandma writes to Gord, “and you must learn to fight.” As Swiv records her thoughts and observations, Fight Night unspools the pain, love, laughter, and above all, will to live a good life across three generations of women in a close-knit family. But it is Swiv’s exasperating, wise and irrepressible Grandma who is at the heart of this novel: someone who knows intimately what it costs to survive in this world, yet has found a way—painfully, joyously, ferociously—to love and fight to the end, on her own terms.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I decided to read this book after reading an NPR review of it. The only real complaint I have about the book is that the dialogue in it isn’t treated with quotation marks. For me, that takes extra concentration to read, especially in the places in which the 3 main characters—Mooshie (Swiv’s mother), Swiv (the 9-year-old narrator), and Elvira (Swiv’s grandmother)—are in conversation. These 3 main characters are strongly portrayed, and the California family that Swiv and Grandma visit later in the novel are clearly drawn and at once likeable. I take exception to the point in the description: “it is Swiv’s exasperating, wise and irrepressible Grandma who is at the heart of this novel,” because to me, it’s as much Swiv’s story as it is her grandma’s. I would consider making this a future Mostly Social Book Club book.

Book #43
The Radcliffe Ladies' Reading Club book cover
Book: The Radcliffe Ladies’ Reading Club Author: Julia Bryan Thomas
Pages: 384 Duration: 11/25/23 – 11/27/23 (3 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: historical fiction, coming of age, women’s issues, books about books
📕10-word summary: Four diversified-background Radcliffe bookclub women come of age very differently.
🖌6-word review: Believable period piece. Good bookclub books.
Description:* Massachusetts, 1954. With bags packed alongside her heavy heart, Alice Campbell escaped halfway across the country and found herself in front of a derelict building tucked among the cobblestone streets of Cambridge. She turns it into the enchanting bookshop of her dreams, knowing firsthand the power of books to comfort the brokenhearted. The Cambridge Bookshop soon becomes a haven for Tess, Caroline, Evie, and Merritt, who are all navigating the struggles of being newly independent college women in a world that seems to want to keep them in the kitchen. But when a member of the group finds herself shattered, everything they know about themselves will be called into question. *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: This was a Mostly Social Book Club book, chosen by Mary. Of the 5 books that the reading club in this book discusses—Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë), A Room of One’s Own (Virginial Woolf), The Age of Innocence (Edith Wharton), Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy), Emma (Jane Austen) & The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald)—I’ve read two. Of Virginia Woolf’s work, I’ve read Mrs. Dolloway (revisiting it after abandoning it once) and I’ve seen plays of The Waves and Orlando. Of Jane Austen’s books, I’ve only read Lady Susan and Pride and Prejudice. The two in this book that I have read are Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, about which I have my favorite “spoiler” story—when someone assumed I’d read it and mentioned something that happens around p. 850 (of the 964-page novel), and I spent 849 pages waiting for it to happen, since I didn’t know when it would. But I digress. The (brief) discussions included in this book about the 5 books they read made me want to read all of them, but I’m pretty sure I won’t. This was a good story that kept moving and kept me interested, and I look forward to discussing at our book club meeting.

Book #42
After the Forest book cover
Book: After the Forest Author: Kell Woods
Pages: 370 Duration: 11/19/23 – 11/24/23 (6 days)
Rating: ★★★☆☆ Genres: fiction, fantasy, retellings, witches, romance, fairy tales
📕10-word summary: An epically intricate and fantastic reimagination of Hansel & Gretel.
🖌6-word review: I’m not a fan of fantasy.
Description:* 1650: The Black Forest, Wurttemberg. 15 years after the witch in the gingerbread house, Greta and Hans are struggling to get by. Their mother and stepmother are long dead, Hans is deeply in debt from gambling, and the countryside lies in ruin, its people recovering in the aftermath of a brutal war. Greta has a secret, the witch’s grimoire, secreted away and whispering in her ear, and the recipe inside that makes the most sinfully delicious—and addictive—gingerbread. As long as she can bake, Greta can keep her small family afloat. But in a village full of superstition, Greta and her intoxicating gingerbread is a source of ever-growing suspicion and vicious gossip. And now, dark magic is returning to the woods and Greta’s own powers – magic she is still trying to understand – may be the only thing that can save her… If it doesn’t kill her first. *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I know after reading my 6-word review, you’re thinking, “You don’t like fantasy, but you read this book and expected to like it?” Valid question. In my defense (as weak as it is), I don’t like fantasy, but I do like “retellings” of stories—think: Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West as a retelling of The Wizard of Oz. (Aside: Writing this up, I see that there’s actually a retellings genre. Interesting.) In this story, I found the minutiae of how one becomes a witch a little tedious, but what I disliked more was all these “changelings”—humans turning into animals and back. With all that said, if you easily suspend your disbelief when you read fantasy, you’d probably love this book. I’d say the biggest thing in the retelling is a revelation, to both the reader and to Greta (née Gretel) herself, of what really happened to her in the woods all those years ago. It’s the quintessential example of this meme’s message:

Book #41
Mortuary Confidential book cover
Book: Mortuary Confidential: Undertakers Spill the Dirt Author: Todd Harra
Pages: 257 Duration: 11/12/23 – 11/14/23 (3 days)
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ Genres: nonfiction, death, memoir, humor
📕10-word summary: Funeral directors share anecdotes, observations, and mishaps—everything but “dirt.”
🖌6-word review: It couldn’t have been more disappointing.
Description:* From shoot-outs at funerals to dead men screaming and runaway corpses, undertakers have plenty of unusual stories to tell—and a special way of telling them. In this macabre and moving compilation, funeral directors across the country share their most embarrassing, jaw-dropping, irreverent, and deeply poignant stories about life at death’s door. Discover what scares them and what moves them to tears. Learn about rookie mistakes and why death sometimes calls for duct tape. Enjoy tales of the dearly departed spending eternity naked from the waist down and getting bottled and corked—in a wine bottle. And then meet their families—the weepers, the punchers, the stolidly dignified, and the ones who deliver their dead mother in a pickup truck. *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: So many things contributed to the two-star rating, with the only thing precluding a one-star rating being that I didn’t abandon it:

  • First of all, the subtitle of the book, “Undertakers Spill the Dirt,” is a complete misnomer. I do get how much the author wanted to use “dirt” considering the subject matter, but the actual idioms are “dish the dirt” or “spill the beans.” And, what’s actually shared here are anecdotes, observations, and mishaps, not what I’d call “dirt” at all.
  • The author refers to someone in one story as “a cripple” and someone in another story as a “r———. (This book was written in 2010.)
  • Have you ever been to a funeral where, when doing a eulogy of the deceased, the clergy person starts using their captive audience to proselytize? “Have you accepted Jesus Christ into your heart as your lord and savior? Or starts recruiting people to join their church? The equivalent to that happens in chapters 35 and 36 in this book—a kind of if you don’t believe in God, here’s why you should or here’s proof that it’s all “real.” There wasn’t even any shame in neither story having any of the aforepromised “dirt” in them.
  • A very large majority of these brief chapter/stories ended somewhat abruptly. “Huh? That’s it?” is a sentiment I exclaimed a lot.

I leave you with a very strong would not recommend on this one.

Book #40
The Marriage Plot book cover
Book: The Marriage Plot Author: Jeffrey Eugenides
Pages: 406 Duration: 10/26/23 – 11/10/23 (16 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: literary fiction, romance, philosophy, religion, mental health, books about books
📕10-word summary: Evolution of a tightly wound, complicated relationship among three people.
🖌6-word review: An arduous, but ultimately worthwhile, read.
Description:* It’s the early 1980s—the country is in a deep recession, and life after college is harder than ever. In the cafés on College Hill, the wised-up kids are inhaling Derrida and listening to the Talking Heads. But Madeleine Hanna, dutiful English major, is writing her senior thesis on Jane Austen and George Eliot, purveyors of the marriage plot that lies at the heart of the greatest English novels. As Madeleine tries to understand why “it became laughable to read writers like Cheever and Updike, who wrote about the suburbia Madeleine and most of her friends had grown up in, in favor of reading the Marquis de Sade, who wrote about deflowering virgins in eighteenth century France,” real life, in the form of two very different guys, intervenes. Leonard Bankhead—charismatic loner, college Darwinist, and lost Portland boy—suddenly turns up in a semiotics seminar, and soon Madeleine finds herself in a highly charged erotic and intellectual relationship with him. At the same time, her old “friend” Mitchell Grammaticus—who’s been reading Christian mysticism and generally acting strange—resurfaces, obsessed with the idea that Madeleine is destined to be his mate. Over the next year, as the members of the triangle in this amazing, spellbinding novel graduate from college and enter the real world, events force them to reevaluate everything they learned in school. Leonard and Madeleine move to a biology laboratory on Cape Cod, but can’t escape the secret responsible for Leonard’s seemingly inexhaustible energy and plunging moods. And Mitchell, traveling around the world to get Madeleine out of his mind, finds himself face-to-face with ultimate questions about the meaning of life, the existence of God, and the true nature of love. *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: There is a reason it took me 16 days to read this book. Three salient points: 1) I added “philosophy,” “religion,” and “mental health,” to the genres, because I think not including them is an egregious omission. 2) A line in the book about one of the characters also applies to the reading of this book: “It was like plowing through late James, or the pages about agrarian reform in Anna Karenina, until you suddenly got to a good part again, which kept on getting better and better until you were so enthralled that you were almost grateful for the previous dull stretch because it increased your eventual pleasure.” And 3) I couldn’t have loved the ending of this book more, and it all happened on the last page with the last sentence being the clincher. A couple of other things: 1) My friend Susan passed this book on to me, so I’m grateful for that. 2) Although my 5-star rating means, “Completely enthralling, couldn’t put it down. and/or More than just entertaining (e.g., educational, enlightening),” it was the additional educational and enlightening part that catapulted my rating on this one. Because even though I’m not religious at all, I did enjoy the intellectual and philosophical inquiry into religion in the story. The part of my rating, would highly recommend, actually comes with a lot of caveats. There are very few people in my life to whom I’d recommend this book.

Book #39
Talk Talk book cover
Book: Talk Talk Author: T. Coraghessan Boyle
Pages: 340 Duration: 10/17/23 – 10/22/23 (6 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, thriller, crime, identity theft
📕10-word summary: A headstrong, dangerous vigilante pursuit by a deaf woman scorned.
🖌6-word review: Action-packed ride with incredibly disappointing ending.
Description:* The first time Bridger saw Dana she was dancing barefoot, her hair aflame in the red glow of the club, her body throbbing with rhythms and cross-rhythms that only she could hear. He was mesmerized. That night they were both deaf, mouthing to each other over the booming bass. And it was not until their first date, after he had agonized over what CD to play in the car, that Bridger learned that her deafness was profound and permanent. By then, he was falling in love. Now she is in a courtroom, her legs shackled, as a list of charges is read out. She is accused of assault with a deadly weapon, auto theft, and passing bad checks, among other things. Clearly there has been a terrible mistake. William Peck Wilson, as Dana and Bridger eventually learn, has been living a blameless life of criminal excess at Dana’s expense. And as Dana and Bridger set out to find him, they begin to test to its limits the life they have started to build together. *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: A friend gave me this book back in 2022 (thank you, Susan!), and I’ve finally gotten around to reading it. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to read it, but I always forget to look at the 5 or 6 physical books in our bookcase for my next book. I can characterize my feelings about it as “bookend disliked” or “liked the middle a lot.” I was just too angry through all of part 1, and I don’t like reading books that make me angry. So, I was grateful when part 2 took a welcome turn, which I was good with all the way until the last chapter and the subsequent epilogue. It’s not a spoiler, at least I don’t think it is, to share this characterization of the ending: “The novel ends on an ambiguous note, with the exact fates of the characters unclear.” I really dislike ambiguous endings. But Bob (my husband) loves them, so you may love the ending if you’re one of his people.

Book #38
Redemption book cover
Book: Redemption Author: Deborah J. Ledford
Pages: 363 Duration: 10/14/23 – 10/17/23 (4 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, mystery, thriller, crime
📕10-word summary: Eva “Lightning Dance” Duran tackles a Taos Pueblo reservation mystery.
🖌6-word review: Cultural and tribal backdrop adds color.
Description:* After four women disappear from the Taos Pueblo reservation, Deputy Eva “Lightning Dance” Duran dives into the case. For her, it’s personal. Among the missing is her best friend, Paloma, a heroin addict who left behind an 18-year-old son. Eva teams up with tribal police officer and longtime friend Cruz “Wolf Song” Romero to tackle a mystery that could both ruin her reputation and threaten her standing in the tribe. And when the missing women start turning up dead, Eva uncovers clues that take her deeper into the reservation’s protected secrets. As Eva races to find Paloma before it’s too late, she will face several tests of loyalty—to her friend, her culture, and her tribe. *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: This was a free e-book download from BookBub. I was “in the mood for some diversity,” which contributed to this book choice with a female, Native American protagonist. This is my first book by this author, and reading about the cultural and tribal influences included in the story reminded me of the Tony Hillerman books I’ve read (Talking God in 1991, The Ghostway in 1997, and People of Darkness in 2018), and then I saw that this author’s book, Snare, was a Hillerman Sky Award finalist. This is the first book in the “Eva ‘Lightning Dance’ Duran” series, and I may or may not read more in the series. I’m not a big series reader. If I do read another by her, it’ll probably be Snare.

Book #37
Tom Lake book cover
Book: Tom Lake Author: Ann Patchett
Pages: 352 Duration: 10/07/23 – 10/09/23 (3 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: literary fiction, historical fiction, romance, family
📕10-word summary: Mother basks in time with her daughters, sharing her past.
🖌6-word review: Unfathomable beauty in delectable word morsels.
Description:* In the spring of 2020, Lara’s three daughters return to the family’s orchard in Northern Michigan. While picking cherries, they beg their mother to tell them the story of Peter Duke, a famous actor with whom she shared both a stage and a romance years before at a theater company called Tom Lake. As Lara recalls the past, her daughters examine their own lives and relationship with their mother, and are forced to reconsider the world and everything they thought they knew. *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: Ann Patchett stuns me with each novel. I was introduced to her writing with bel canto in 2020, and I read The Dutch House in 2022. While in the queue for this book at the WCPL, I read These Precious Days, a nonfiction collection of some of her essays, which were good but nothing like her novels. She has enough status as a writer to get the likes of Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep recording her audiobooks. I loved Hanks’ reading of The Dutch House, and while Streep was good reading this one, it didn’t enhance the story to me like Hanks’ reading did of The Dutch House. My favorite scene (no spoiler alert) in this book is when Emily and her boyfriend talk about their future with Lara & Joe (her parents). I also loved the secret that Lara never shares with anyone but the readers of this book. If you’ve never read Ann Patchett, treat yourself to one of her books.

Book #36
The Rise: A Short Story book cover
Book: The Rise: A Short Story Author: Ian Rankin
Pages: 86 Duration: 10/03/23 – 10/03/23 (1 day)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, mystery, short stories
📕10-word summary: Female Detective Sergeant Gish solves multilayered mystery with privileged suspects.
🖌6-word review: Fast-paced story, ending with a twist.
Description:* The Rise is a gleaming residential tower, newly constructed from steel and blackened glass, that stands on some of London’s most prestigious real estate. Looming imposingly over Hyde Park, only multi-millionaires need apply for one of its sumptuous apartments. But when the young night concierge is found murdered in the building’s lobby, the elite residents quickly find their gilded lifestyles under unwelcome police scrutiny. Investigating officer DS Gish has her work cut out. The only suspects, those who live in the building, aren’t accustomed to police interrogation. But it seems horribly certain that one of them must be the killer. *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I chose this book as one of 2 books with female protagonists for my October first reads offering, which provides free early access to an editors’ pick from Amazon Prime. It’s my first short story this year, although I have read 2 books that are collections of short stories. I’ll admit that this is a “weak” 4-star rating because there were a lot of characters and a couple of times, I thought, “Now which person is this again?” But overall it meets my 4-star criteria of “Really great book in all respects with perhaps some minor flaws. Would definitely recommend.” The “definitely” indicator is helped by it being a short story.

Book #35
Butcher on the Moor book cover
Book: Butcher on the Moor Author: Ric Brady
Pages: 217 Duration: 09/29/23 – 09/30/23 (2 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: fiction, mystery, crime
📕10-word summary: Serial killer’s slightly demented mother calls the cops on him.
🖌6-word review: Classic crime mystery that keeps moving.
Description:* Ex-DCI Henry Ward is woken in the middle of the night by a phone call. A distressed Mrs. Thomson asks him to come and arrest her son. Elderly and confused, Mrs. Thomson claims that her son has killed someone. And it certainly looks like the young man is guilty of something when he attacks Henry and flees the scene. That, and the carrier bag of body parts in the basement. With the Yorkshire police overstretched, and DI Barnes injured, part of the investigative work is delegated to the retired cop. Yet when more bodies turn up, Henry realizes he’s been handed a very meaty case indeed. *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: This book was a free download from BookBub, and it was a quick read; I could have easily read it in one day if I’d’ve started earlier in the day. That fact that the entire story happened in one day kept the plot moving at a nice clip, which I loved.

Book #34
The Professor and the Madman book cover
Book: The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary Author: Simon Winchester
Pages: 242 Duration: 09/19/23 – 09/23/23 (5 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: nonfiction, history, biography, language, books about books
📕10-word summary: So many words and years. So much work without computers.
🖌6-word review: Incredible story of the OED‘s creation.
Description:* The Professor and the Madman, masterfully researched and eloquently written, is an extraordinary tale of madness, genius, and the incredible obsessions of two remarkable men that led to the making of the Oxford English Dictionary — and literary history. The compilation of the OED, begun in 1857, was one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken. As definitions were collected, the overseeing committee, led by Professor James Murray, discovered that one man, Dr. W. C. Minor, had submitted more than ten thousand. When the committee insisted on honoring him, a shocking truth came to light: Dr. Minor, an American Civil War veteran, was also an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane. *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I first read this book in 2019, and I’m re-reading it because I’ve made it my next Mostly Social Book Club book. My thoughts about it then are on my 2019 books read page. The thing that stayed with me on this reading was how very long this project took and how very underestimated the effort was at multiple points over the years. These two facts illustrate just a couple of instances of those: 1) For the first volume (of 12), they expected between 60- to 100-thousand word submissions and to complete that volume in 2 years. They actually received 6 million submissions, and it took 20 years to complete it.” and 2) “In 1884, the editor declared that he now felt confident in predicting that the final part (of the 12 volumes) would be published in 11 year’s time. It was in fact to take another 44 years.” Altogether, it took more than 70 years to create the 12 tombstone-size volumes that made up the first edition of what was to become the great Oxford English Dictionary. It was completed in 1928.

Book #33
These Precious Days book cover
Book: These Precious Days Author: Ann Patchett
Pages: 320 Duration: 09/17/23 – 09/19/23 (3 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: nonfiction, essays, memoir, short stories
📕10-word summary: 24 essays by the inimitable Ann Patchett, some previously published.
🖌6-word review: Patchett can tell stories. Nonfiction included.
Description:* At the center of These Precious Days is the title essay, a surprising and moving meditation on an unexpected friendship that explores “what it means to be seen, to find someone with whom you can be your best and most complete self.” When Patchett chose an early galley of actor and producer Tom Hanks’ short story collection to read one night before bed, she had no idea that this single choice would be life changing. It would introduce her to a remarkable woman—Tom’s brilliant assistant Sooki—with whom she would form a profound bond that held monumental consequences for them both. A literary alchemist, Patchett plumbs the depths of her experiences to create gold: engaging and moving pieces that are both self-portrait and landscape, each vibrant with emotion and rich in insight. Turning her writer’s eye on her own experiences, she transforms the private into the universal, providing us all a way to look at our own worlds anew, and reminds how fleeting and enigmatic life can be. *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I am a huge Ann Patchett fan, and after getting in the WCPL‘s queue at #296 of 935 people waiting to read her new book, Tom Lake, which I heard about on NPR, I downloaded this audiobook of hers on Libby because it was immediately available. Of the 24 essays included in this collection, my two favorite were How to Practice and There are No Children Here. How to Practice is one of the previously published essays and you can read it, or listen to it, in its entirety in the March 1, 2021 edition of The New Yorker. I thought of my sister throughout There are No Children Here, as she is also a person who is childless by choice. Patchett shares a comprehensive set of comments that she has addressed on this topic over the years. The most meaningful story was, unequivocally, the eponymously titled, These Precious Days. I loved learning about Sooki Raphael, Tom Hanks’ friend and assistant, and whom Ann met when she asked Tom if he’d record the audio version of her book, The Dutch House, which I read in December of 2022 and about which I wrote: “It was a great story, but I’m pretty sure Hanks’ reading of it made it even better to me. Audible Blog said about his reading of this book: ‘Hanks is the perfect narrator for this story, which calls for a skillful balance of humor, cynicism, and deep emotion.'”

Book #32
Fortune book cover
Book: Fortune Author: Ellen Won Steil
Pages: 347 Duration: 09/13/23 – 09/16/23 (4 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, mystery thriller
📕10-word summary: “DNA lottery” scheme threatens to expose three women’s long-held secret.
🖌6-word review: Slightly confusing at times. Good pacing.
Description:* One drop of blood for a chance at a multimillion-dollar windfall. Is it a philanthropic gesture from a billionaire widow? Some suspect a darker motive behind the DNA lottery—one tied to the eighteen-year-old mystery of an infant’s unidentified remains that mars the history of idyllic Rosemary Hills, Iowa. Right after the blood lottery is announced, three local women (Cleo, Jemma, & Alex) fall under suspicion of knowing something about that night, and their carefully kept secrets threaten to spill out too. Soon, unimaginable revelations of the past will collide with the present—and not just for Cleo, Jemma, and Alex. In this seemingly ordinary community, they aren’t the only ones with long-buried secrets. *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I chose this book for my September first reads offering, which provides free early access to an editors’ pick from Amazon Prime. I enjoyed this book, although at times I was slightly lost, mostly due to the many family characters around the the 3 female suspects at the heart of this mystery. At probably 66% of the way through the book, I was finally able to remember which husbands, kids, and mothers belonged to which of the women. (I’m grateful that none of them had pets.) The story also involved flashbacks in certain chapters, but they were clearly marked as such and didn’t confuse me. What stopped me from giving this book 5 stars was that, at the end, I had to say, “Wait a minute. Let me make sure I got right what and how it all happened—because it was a lot.”

Book #31
Mississippi Sissy book cover
Book: Mississippi Sissy Author: Kevin Sessums
Pages: 305 Duration: 08/27/23 – 09/08/23 (2 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: nonfiction, memoir, LGBT, queer, gay
📕10-word summary: An at-times grueling, at-times poignant, and at-times triumphant coming-of-age story.
🖌6-word review: Sublime sentences, towering turns of phrases.
Description:* Mississippi Sissy is the stunning memoir from Kevin Sessums, a celebrity journalist who grew up scaring other children, hiding terrible secrets, pretending to be Arlene Frances and running wild in the South. As he grew up in Forest, Mississippi, befriended by the family maid, Mattie May, he became a young man who turned the word “sissy” on its head, just as his mother taught him. In Jackson, he is befriended by Eudora Welty and journalist Frank Hains, but when Hains is brutally murdered in his antebellum mansion, Kevin’s long road north towards celebrity begins. *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I loved this book that I found—placed by my friend @buttonbright of bookcrossings.com—in the “little free library” on Fayetteville Street in front of Deco Raleigh. The writing was absolutely beautiful even while detailing the ugly, and sometimes incomprehensible, cruelty thrust upon effeminate, gay boys in the deep south. And while this story is set in the deep south, such cruelty against such people surely wasn’t (still isn’t) unique to that locale. There are so many themes covered in this book, such as father & gay son relationships, mother & gay son relationships, masculinity, intellectual and cultural influences, politics, and mentoring, and then several others that should probably come with content warnings, such as overt and ugly racism, bullying, domestic violence, sexual predators, graphic sexual depictions—you know, a day in the life of a lot of LGBTQ kids even today. With all that said, every effeminate, gay boy should have a mother like Kevin’s, which definitely is a redeeming aspect of this memoir, along with Kevin’s eventual escape to a more enlightened and accepting environment.

Book #30
The Woman in the Library book cover
Book: The Woman in the Library Author: Sulari Gentill
Pages: 460 (large-print edition) Duration: 08/22/23 – 08/23/23 (2 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, mystery, thriller, books about books
📕10-word summary: Three woven narratives are involved in unraveling one woman’s murder.
🖌6-word review: A good, but unnecessarily complex, story.
Description:* The ornate reading room at the Boston Public Library is quiet—until a woman’s terrified scream shatters the tranquility. Security guards take charge immediately, instructing everyone inside to stay put until the threat is identified and contained. While they wait for the all-clear, four strangers sitting at the same table pass the time in conversation, and friendships are struck. Each has their own reasons for being in the reading room that morning—it just happens that one is a murderer.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I “listened” to this novel back in October of 22, and in my write-up then said, “I suspect it was because of the audiobook version I was “reading” that I had a hard time following this story. It has 3 narratives going on, and especially at first, I had trouble keeping track of which one I was currently reading. I’ll enumerate them: #1) The epistolary narrative between Leo, an aspiring writer who is critiquing the latest book in progress of Hannah, a famous Australian author. #2) The narrative that is the novel that Hannah is writing, which is the actual murder mystery that this novel is about, and which includes 4 main characters: Winifred “Freddie” Kincaid, Cain, Whit, and Marigold. #3) The narrative of a novel that the Freddie character (in narrative #2) is writing and whose characters she dubs: Handsome Man, Heroic Chin, and Freud Girl who map respectively to Cain, Whit, and Marigold in narrative #2. It’s a lot. To further obfuscate things, Hannah names one of her secondary characters (in narrative #2) Leo, after the Leo in narrative #1. Got it? I’d like to read this again sometime—in a printed version.” Well, it’s been selected as a Mostly Social Book Club book, and we’re discussing it at our September meeting. I took the opportunity to read a (large-print) edition, and I’m glad I did. I had forgotten important details and plot points it—and frankly, who had actually “done it,” which is kind of important in a murder mystery. I again gave it 4 stars instead of 5 due to the unnecessarily complex, 3-tier structure of the novel. YMMV.

Book #29
The Authenticity Project book cover
Book: The Authenticity Project Author: Clare Pooley
Pages: 478 (large-print edition) Duration: 08/19/23 – 08/21/23 (3 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, romance, chick lit
📕10-word summary: A little green notebook connects six strangers in unexpected ways.
🖌6-word review: Intriguing premise delivers interesting enough story.
Description:* The story of a solitary green notebook that brings together six strangers and leads to unexpected friendship, and even love. Julian Jessop, an eccentric, lonely artist and septuagenarian believes that most people aren’t really honest with each other. But what if they were? And so he writes—in a plain, green journal—the truth about his own life and leaves it in his local café. It’s run by the incredibly tidy and efficient Monica, who furtively adds her own entry and leaves the book in the wine bar across the street. Before long, the others who find the green notebook add the truths about their own deepest selves—and soon find each other In Real Life at Monica’s Café. The Authenticity Project’s cast of characters—including Hazard, the charming addict who makes a vow to get sober; Alice, the fabulous mommy Instagrammer whose real life is a lot less perfect than it looks online; and their other new friends—is by turns quirky and funny, heartbreakingly sad and painfully true-to-life. *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: This was a nice—what I’d call, for lack of having used a cliché in a while—”summer read.” I’ve also seen it referred to as a “cozy” novel and a “glossy tale.” It’s no great literary masterpiece (nor does it try to be), and what appealed to me about it was the idea of people writing their deep, dark secrets in a notebook that other people subsequently read and then added their own “truths” to. It’s a modern story that includes someone who’s a social media influencer; an interracial gay (male) couple; and a lesbian couple, one of whom is a heterosexual-turned-homosexual dropping a husband and picking up a wife. And FWIW, I hate the genre name “chick lit” (as well as “chick flick” for films). This was a Mostly Social Book Club book.

Book #28
Rules of Civility book cover
Book: Rules of Civility Author: Amor Towles
Pages: 556 (large-print edition) Duration: 08/14/23 – 08/19/23 (6 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: historical fiction, literary fiction, New York
📕10-word summary: A watershed year in the life of an uncompromising 25-year-old.
🖌6-word review: Wonderful voice. Strong characterizations. Just lovely.
Description:* This sophisticated and entertaining first novel presents the story of a young woman whose life is on the brink of transformation. On the last night of 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker, happens to sit down at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a year-long journey into the upper echelons of New York society–where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve. With its sparkling depiction of New York’s social strata, its intricate imagery and themes, and its immensely appealing characters, “Rules of Civility” won the hearts of readers and critics alike.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: This book had me at the preface, in which I loved the way the author set up the story that’s going to be told as a flashback for the rest of the book—until returning to the present only in the epilogue. When I posted on Facebook that I had started it, 4 of my reading friends immediately commented to the effect of, “Oh, I loved that book. I loved Katey, the strong female protagonist. I loved that one of the main characters hailed from Fall River (Massachusetts)—my childhood city. The book was so well written that I was shocked to find this editing miss: “…and discover that before the end of the weekend all assembled will get their just deserts.” Everyone knows that “desserts” is “stressed” spelled backward, while “deserts” are barren areas of sandy land. Tsk. Tsk. This was a Mostly Social Book Club book, and I look forward to discussing it with the group.

Book #27
Musical Theatre for Dummies book cover
Book: Musical Theatre for Dummies Author: Seth Rudetsky
Pages: 374 Duration: 07/30/23 – 08/07/23 (9 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: nonfiction, theater, musicals
📕10-word summary: Your preeminent source for the ins-and-outs of everything musical theater.
🖌6-word review: Seth delivers. Informative, funny, and personable.
Description:* Do you want to know more about the fascinating history of Broadway musicals, the stars of yesterday and today, and what goes on behind the curtain of a musical production? In Musical Theatre For Dummies, Broadway insider and host of Sirius/XM Radio’s ON BROADWAY channel Seth Rudetsky takes you backstage and reveals everything you want to know (and what you didn’t know you wanted to know) about life in the theatre. How did musical theatre begin? How did Broadway stars become stars? How can you launch your own musical theatre path, whether in a school musical, community theatre, or on a path toward Broadway? Get answers to all these questions along with tons more insight from the unofficial “mayor of Broadway.” Whether you’re completely new to musical theatre or have a few Tony awards displayed over your fireplace, this is the book for you. Enjoy real-life anecdotes shared with the author by Broadway’s biggest stars as you become a musical theater know-it-all.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I loved this book, but I love Seth Rudetsky, and I love Broadway musicals, so YMMV. If you like theater in general, and Broadway musicals in particular, you’ll enjoy it. If you have a child who might be interested in pursuing “being on Broadway,” there are sections on identifying skills you need to be onstage: singing, acting, dancing; auditioning; getting an agent; becoming a member of Equity; and working a side job (let’s be real). There are also several kinds of “contingent-type” jobs like understudies, standbys, alternatives, & swings (and the difference between those), and a long list of behind-the-scenes jobs like the costume designers, set designers, lighting designers, sound designers, & hair designers, and “further-back-stage jobs” like the backstage crew, prop crew, sound crew, fly rail crew, and more. Seth does a great job talking about what’s involved in each of these roles to differentiate them while also giving you a sense of the incredible amount of work that goes into putting on a Broadway show. If this sounds interesting to you, I’d be happy to loan you the book.

Book #26
Other People's Lives book cover
Book: Other People’s Lives Author: J.E. Rowney
Pages: 180 Duration: 07/29/23 – 07/30/23 (2 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, psychological thriller, suspense
📕10-word summary: Rowney slowly unravels a plot more twisted than a pretzel.
🖌6-word review: So ambivalent. Abandoned it. Revisited it.
Description:* “Let me ask you. Are you worried that someone is watching you, or are you worried that you think someone is watching you?” Sophie Portman has lost her husband, and she thinks she may be losing her mind. She seeks the help of psychiatrist Andrew Thacker, but as she starts to open up, the truth begins to unravel and nothing is quite as it seems.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I abandoned this book—at the 37% mark—the day I started it, because it seemingly was about a therapist who was manipulating his patient, and I just wasn’t in the mood for that. I also noticed that Goodreads said the book was 317 pages, but my Kindle said it was 180 pages, and I worried that, somehow, I didn’t get the whole book upon download, and I didn’t want to get all the way through a book I wasn’t enjoying just to find out I didn’t have the whole book. The next day, I looked at the page count on Amazon and it said 180, and I saw a bunch of review comments about the crazy twists this book takes. So, I picked it back up, and it didn’t disappoint. One interesting thing about this book is the use of its title in the story. Usually, at some point in a book, you see the title incorporated, and I usually think, “Ah, so that’s how they chose the book name.” Well, in this story the phrase “other people’s lives” is used 11 times, and the slight variation, “other people’s lies,” is used 4 times. And finally, if I hadn’t abandoned this book and picked it back up, I probably would have given it 5 stars instead of 4.

Book #25
T is for Trespass book cover
Book: T is for Trespass Author: Sue Grafton
Pages: 422 Duration: 07/25/23 – 07/26/23 (2 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: fiction, crime, mystery, detective, suspense
📕10-word summary: PI Kinsey Millhone’s latest case hits too close to home.
🖌6-word review: Classic Grafton with strong female protagonist.
Description:* Kinsey Millhone’s elderly neighbor, Gus Vronsky, may have been the original inspiration for the term “Grumpy Gus.” A miser and a hoarder, Gus is so crotchety that after he takes a bad fall, his only living relative is anxious to find someone to take care of him and get back home as soon as she can. To help, Kinsey runs a check on the applicant, Solana Rojas. Social security, driver’s license, nursing It all checks out. And it sounds like she did a good job for her former employers. So Kinsey gives her the thumbs-up, figuring Gus will be the ideal assignment for this diligent, experienced caregiver. And the real Solana Rojas was indeed an excellent caregiver. But the woman who has stolen her identity is not, and for her, Gus will be the ideal victim…*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: My sister, who’s a big Sue Grafton fan—and a fan of other authors (e.g., Paretsky and J.D. Robb) whose mysteries feature female detectives—gave me this book. If you’re not familiar with Sue, she is best known for her “Alphabet Series” featuring private investigator Kinsey Millhone in the fictional city of Santa Teresa, California. As the series name implies, the titles of the books work like this: “A” is for Alibi, “B” is for Burglar, “C” is for Corpse,” etc. The series concludes with “Y” is for Yesterday. She died before she could finish “Z” is for Zero,” and she purportedly left instructions that no one should finish it for her. You can see the complete list of titles at The Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Series. In this book, Kinsey is working on two investigations, and I stayed interested in both of them. Neither one is a simple case, and they both twist and turn their way toward a pretty satisfying climax. This is my second book in the series, having read “C” is for Corpse back in October of 1992 during the 2nd year of a 10-year run of our Nematomes Book Club, which ran from 1991 through 2001.

Book #24
There's No Coming Back from This book cover
Book: There’s No Coming Back from This Author: Ann Garvin
Pages: 300 Duration: 07/21/23 – 07/24/23 (4 days)
Rating: ★★★☆☆ Genres: womens fiction, contemporary, romance
📕10-word summary: Woman with financial woes gets “dream job” from former lover.
🖌6-word review: Not enthralling, but kept me interested.
Description:* “The show must go on” takes on a whole new meaning for one single mom in a witty and emotional novel by the USA Today bestselling author of I Thought You Said This Would Work. It seems lately that Poppy Lively is invisible to everyone but the IRS. After her accountant absconded with her life savings, newly bankrupt Poppy is on the verge of losing her home when an old flame, now a hotshot producer, gives her a surprising job in costumes on a Hollywood film set. It’s a bold move to pack her bags, keep secrets from her daughter, and head to Los Angeles, but Poppy’s a capable person—how hard can a job in wardrobe be? It’s not like she has a choice; her life couldn’t get any worse.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: This was my second choice from Amazon’s July free “First Reads” book offerings. I can’t put my finger on exactly what I didn’t like about this book—if it was the characters in general, the constant navel-gazing of the protagonist, that dog, or what. With that said, I didn’t dislike it enough to abandon it or even to give it a 2-star rating, mostly because I did want to see how it all played out. Surprisingly, like Lessons in Chemistry, the dog in this book annoyed me. I mean the woman had enough going on without having a dog in a dog carrier strapped to her body most of the book. It’s also hard to comprehend how this entire book takes place over about 5 days. (It seemed like months.) I’d be hard-pressed to recommend this book.

Book #23
Broadway Butterfly book cover
Book: Broadway Butterfly Author: Sara DiVello
Pages: 432 Duration: 07/04/23 – 07/11/23 (8 days)
Rating: ★★★☆☆ Genres: historical fiction, mystery, thriller, true crime
📕10-word summary: Newspaper woman is doggedly determined to find scandalous flapper’s murderer.
🖌6-word review: Character overload with complex connections hampers.
Description:* Manhattan, 1923. Scandalous flapper Dot King is found dead in her Midtown apartment, a bottle of chloroform beside her and a fortune in jewels missing. Dot’s headline-making murder grips the city. It also draws a clutch of lovers, parasites, and justice seekers into one of the city’s most mesmerizing mysteries. From Broadway’s glittering lights to its sordid underbelly to the machinations of the country’s most powerful men, Julia embarks on a quest for justice. What she discovers, twist after breathtaking twist, might be even more nefarious than murder.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: This was one of my two choices from Amazon’s July free “First Reads” book offerings. You usually only get to choose one—not sure why we get two this month. I liked this book more in the beginning when it seemed like a somewhat simple murder mystery. But eventually the suspect list, and their connections to each other, grew exponentially complex—moving into high-powered police officials, politicians (including President Harding, hence its “historical fiction” genre), and it even touched on a “crime syndicate,” which I don’t enjoy reading about. I had a hard time keeping track of all the characters and their positions in the police department, politics, and the mob, mostly because I wasn’t interested enough in them to remember who they were, and I don’t like investing in suspects in murder mysteries who might end up not being at all germane to who actually “done it.”

Book #22
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake book cover
Book: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake Author: Aimee Bender
Pages: 292 Duration: 06/23/23 – 07/02/23 (11 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, magical realism, food, coming of age
📕10-word summary: Rosie “tastes” the feelings of people whose food she eats.
🖌6-word review: Bizarre, compelling premise turns Twilight Zone-ish.
Description:* On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein bites into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother’s emotions in the slice. To her horror, she finds that her cheerful mother tastes of despair. Soon, she’s privy to the secret knowledge that most families keep hidden: her father’s detachment, her mother’s transgression, her brother’s increasing retreat from the world. But there are some family secrets that even her cursed taste buds can’t discern.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I retrieved this book free from a street-side book kiosk. It was placed there by an acquaintance of mine who buys books at a local used book store and then places them in various free-book kiosks around Raleigh. He’s placed over 17,350 to date and posts on Facebook when he does. I found the premise of this book compelling, and it lived up to that as the story progressed slowly and darkly, and got quite dark. Many times while reading this book, I thought of Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, one of my all-time favorite books. I mention The Twilight Zone in my 6-word review, because during one particular scene (no spoilers) I sensed my face contorting, my brow furrowing, and my mind trying to comprehend what exactly was happening. I am considering making this a future Mostly Social Book Club book, as it begs to be discussed.

Book #21
The Way They Were book cover
Book: The Way They Were: How Epic Battles and Bruised Egos Brought a Classic Hollywood Love Story to the Screen Author: Robert Hofler
Pages: 296 Duration: 06/10/23 – 06/14/23 (5 days)
Rating: ★★★☆☆ Genres: nonfiction, film, media tie-in, history
📕10-word summary: All the drama and dirt behind making a classic movie.
🖌6-word review: Lotsa name-dropping that often escaped me.
Description:* Impeccably researched and eye-opening, The Way They Were reveals the full story behind the challenges, rivalries and real-life romance surrounding the movie. Even the iconic casting was fraught. Screenwriter Arthur Laurents wrote the role of Katie with Streisand in mind, but finding Hubbell was another matter. Redford was reluctant to play what he perceived as the “Ken doll” to Streisand’s lead, and demanded his role be beefed up, with ten writers—among them Francis Ford Coppola—called in to rework the script. The first preview was disastrous. Several scenes were cut, angering Streisand and Laurents, yet the edits worked. The new version was a resounding success, and its appeal endures, earning it a regular spot in the AFI’s annual Top 10 movie romances.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: This is only the second book I’ve paid for in 5 years, and I got it for $1.99. I actually bought it for my husband but ended up reading it, too. To be honest, I had a hard time following it, because of the great number of people involved in making the movie—between the producer, the director, the writers and more writers brought in, and writers fired, and writers rehired, and so on. Most interesting to me was learning of the reluctance of Robert Redford to be in this movie at all, and then his proclivities as an actor like constantly being late, particular about what side of his face gets filmed, and not liking rehearsing so that a scene is “fresh” when it happens. Barbra is also particular about which side of her face (the left side) gets filmed. In the filming of Yentl (in which she tries to pass as a boy to be able to attend a yeshiva) she confessed: “I have two very different sides of my face. My left side is more feminine. My right side is more masculine. In the movie, I had myself photographed from the right to show a side of me that had hardly ever been seen.” I feel certain that I’d’ve enjoyed this book more if I had seen The Way We Were movie more recently than 45 years ago. This book also made me want to read The Way We Were book, which this book makes clear is a very, very different story than the movie’s.

Book #20
The Book Club On Waverly Lane book cover
Book: The Book Club On Waverly Lane Author: Rachel Hanna
Pages: 236 Duration: 06/06/23 – 06/07/23 (2 days)
Rating: ★★★☆☆ Genres: fiction, romance, books about books, southern
📕10-word summary: A new book club unmasks authentic lives of Stepford-wives-like neighbors.
🖌6-word review: Movie’s genre would be “chick flick.”
Description:* Things aren’t always what they seem on Waverly Lane… After moving to the outskirts of Charleston, South Carolina, Shelby Anderson decides to form a book club to get to know her neighbors and build a new life after her old one imploded. Little does she know that the women who show up with homemade cookies and perfectly manicured nails have a whole host of secrets of their own. Will her new book club lead to lifelong friendships or put her in the middle of drama she doesn’t want or need?*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: My husband found this book in a neighborhood free-book kiosk, and a couple of things about it made him think I’d enjoy it: 1) it’s about a book club, and 2) the font size wasn’t microscopic. The story wasn’t really what I was expecting—I thought it would be more of a mystery than a “feel-good,” “group-hug” kind of story—but I didn’t not like it. It’s the kind of book that made me wish my rating system contained halves, because I would have gone with a 3.5 instead of a 3. Two things I did appreciate about it: 1) although it lists “romance” as one of its genres, more of it was about the group of women than the one woman experiencing a romance, and 2) the writing was pretty basic, but decent. I’m waffling as to whether I would choose this for our book club, as what’s most enticing about doing that is that it has “book club” in its title, which isn’t exactly a clincher in my criteria for choosing books for the group.

Book #19
Scattered All Over the Earth book cover
Book: Scattered All Over the Earth Author: Yōko Tawada
Pages: 219 Duration: 05/21/23 – 06/05/23 (16 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, Japan, science fiction, dystopia, language
📕10-word summary: insufficient space in brain, Hiruko has. new language so made.
🖌6-word review: Linguistically interesting. Prevalent POVs. Cheerfully dystopian.
Description:* Welcome to the not-too-distant future: Japan, having vanished from the face of the earth, is now remembered as “the land of sushi.” Hiruko, its former citizen and a climate refugee herself, has a job teaching immigrant children in Denmark with her invented language Panska (Pan-Scandinavian). As she searches for anyone who can still speak her mother tongue, Hiruko soon makes new friends. Her troupe travels to France, encountering an umami cooking competition; a dead whale; an ultra-nationalist named Breivik; unrequited love; Kakuzo robots; red herrings; uranium; an Andalusian matador. Episodic and mesmerizing scenes flash vividly along, and soon they’re all next off to Stockholm.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: Two things: 1) science fiction is not a genre I enjoy, and 2) I have avoided reading dystopian novels ever since January of 2016. However, I read this book because it was a retirement gift from a colleague, who noted, “Here’s a little something to bring some worldly entertainment to your whirlwind travels!” That it took me 16 days to read this book says a lot without having to say a lot. Its saving grace was twofold: 1) a good portion of it was about language, and 2) the diverse characters brought interesting perspectives in terms of worldviews, temperaments, and physicalities. Overall, the writing was a little too lyrical for my taste, but that didn’t preclude it from some brilliant moments, one being: “It all started about a month ago. I was strolling through the Kaiserthermen as usual, wearing loneliness like a cardigan with a jacket over it.”

Book #18
Cathedral book cover
Book: Cathedral Author: Raymond Carver
Pages: 230 Duration: 05/15/23 – 05/20/23 (6 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, short stories, literature, classics
📕10-word summary: Short stories’ characters searching, longing, and consumed by existential angst.
🖌6-word review: Abrupt, ambiguous endings that were welcomed.
Description:* It was morning in America when Raymond Carver’s Cathedral came out in 1983, but the characters in this dry collection of short stories from the forgotten corners of land of opportunity didn’t receive much sunlight. Nothing much happens to the subjects of Carver’s fiction, which is precisely why they are so harrowing: nothingness is a daunting presence to overcome. And rarely do they prevail, but the loneliness and quiet struggle the characters endure provide fertile ground for literary triumph, particularly in the hands of Carver, who was perhaps in his best form with this effort.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: This book appeared in my daily BookBub bargains email, and it was its author, Raymond Carver, that caught my attention, because although I have one of his short poems, Late Fragment, included in my already-devised obituary, I’ve never read any of his other work. That, and the fact that I hadn’t read a book of short stories in a while clinched the deal, and I borrowed the book from the library. A dozen short stories comprise this book, and pretty much all of them have characters who are either down on their luck, dealing with unexpected circumstances, trying to carry on after their spouses abandon them, or dealing with other such anxiety-producing situations. To be honest, I felt a little anxious reading each one and so was happy when they came to an end even though it was usually an abrupt and ambiguous ending, which I’m not generally a fan of. What wasn’t ambiguous about any of the stories—and therefore the book overall—was that the writing was good. I’m happy to have him as a guest star in my obituary.

Book #17
The Paris Apartment book cover
Book: The Paris Apartment Author: Lucy Foley
Pages: 360 Duration: 05/08/23 – 05/13/23 (6 days)
Rating: ★★★☆☆ Genres: fiction, mystery, suspense
📕10-word summary: Innocent visit to a half-brother becomes a grave, sordid affair.
🖌6-word review: Uneven tempo—agonizingly slow first half.
Description:* Jess needs a fresh start. She’s broke and alone, and she’s just left her job under less than ideal circumstances. Her half-brother Ben didn’t sound thrilled when she asked if she could crash with him for a bit, but he didn’t say no, and surely everything will look better from Paris. Only when she shows up—to find a very nice apartment, could Ben really have afforded this?—he’s not there. The longer Ben stays missing, the more Jess starts to dig into her brother’s situation, and the more questions she has. Ben’s neighbors are an eclectic bunch, and not particularly friendly. Jess may have come to Paris to escape her past, but it’s starting to look like it’s Ben’s future that’s in question.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: Although this story had a “whirlwind ending” when everything came together in just a couple of chapters, I felt “strung along” for far too long—like the entire first half of the book. It wasn’t until just after 50% that we “heard from” Ben. I did like the two, albeit both very minor, gay plot points, as well as how each of the main characters—the socialite (Sophie), the nice guy (Nick), the alcoholic (Antoine), the girl on the verge (Jess), and the unnamed concierge—presented their own point-of-view with eponymous chapters indicating such. I often thought of Lock Every Door, which I read in August of 2022 and in which, one might argue, the apartment building itself was also a character. This was a Mostly Social Book Club book.

Book #16
Bellfield Hall book cover
Book: Bellfield Hall Author: Anna Dean
Pages: 300 Duration: 04/26/23 – 05/02/23 (7 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: historical fiction, mystery, British literature
📕10-word summary: Investigating a murder, Miss Dido Kent uncovers some family whoppers.
🖌6-word review: Compelling story told with Jane-Austen-like writing.
Description:* 1805. An engagement party is taking place for Mr Richard Montague, son of wealthy landowner Sir Edgar Montague, and his fiancée Catherine. During a dance with his beloved, a strange thing happens: a man appears at Richard’s shoulder and appears to communicate something to him without saying a word. Instantly breaking off the engagement, he rushes off to speak to his father, never to be seen again. Distraught with worry, Catherine sends for her spinster aunt, Miss Dido Kent, who has a penchant for solving mysteries. Catherine pleads with her to find her fiancé and to discover the truth behind his disappearance. It’s going to take a lot of logical thinking to untangle the complex threads of this multi-layered mystery, and Miss Dido Kent is just the woman to do it.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I retrieved this book free from a street-side book kiosk. It was placed there by an acquaintance of mine who buys books at a local used book store and then places them in various free-book kiosks around Raleigh. He’s placed over 17,350 to date and posts on Facebook when he does. I always check out his list of what he’s left, and after reading this book’s teaser (in italics in the description above), I had to read it. It’s classic British literature (think Jane-Austen-ish writing), and it’s classic historical fiction involving generations of family secrets and drama. It’s also classic mystery, with this “investigator” (Aunt Dido) at times being a little like Lt. Columbo—whose TV show character, interestingly, was partially inspired by Porfiry Petrovich, a character in Fyodor Dostoevsky‘s Crime and Punishment, which is one of my favorite books of all time.

Book #15
Hemingway's Daughter book cover
Book: Hemingway’s Daughter Author: Christine M. Whitehead
Pages: 290 Duration: 04/19/23 – 04/24/23 (6 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: historical fiction
📕10-word summary: Finn Hemingway’s negotiation of life in her famous father’s shadow.
🖌6-word review: An excellent instantiation of historical fiction.
Description:* Finn Hemingway, fictional daughter of Ernest and Hadley Hemingway, knows for a fact that she’s been born at the wrong time into the wrong family with the wrong talents, making her three dreams for the future almost impossible to attain. She burns to be a trial lawyer in an era when RBG is being told to type and when a man who is 500th in his law school class is hired over a woman who is first in hers. She yearns to find true love when the family curse dictates that love always ends for the Hemingways and usually it ends badly. And finally, she’d give up the first two dreams if she were able to snag the third. She longs to have an impact on the only thing that matters to her father: his writing. To accomplish that would require a miracle. All three dreams are almost impossible, but it’s the “almost” that keeps Finn going. Hemingway had three sons but ached for a daughter. This is her story.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and from a writing perspective love how a fictional character was seamlessly inserted into a pretty much “real” story of Hemingway’s life. I found the issues, both emotional and intellectual, that she dealt with as the child of a famous person completely believable and understandable. I’m considering making this a future Mostly Social Book Club book.

Book #14
Something Bad Wrong book cover
Book: Something Bad Wrong Author: Eryk Pruitt
Pages: 440 Duration: 04/04/23 – 04/10/23 (7 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, mystery, suspense
📕10-word summary: Podcaster and recently-disgraced reporter try to solve a 50-year-old murder.
🖌6-word review: An interesting, well-told, multi-layered police procedural.
Description:* To catch the killer who eluded her detective grandfather fifty years ago, a true-crime podcaster must contend with outdated evidence, ulterior motives, and the dark family secrets that got in the way. Told in a dual timeline that covers both investigations, Something Bad Wrong explores human folly, hubris, and how sometimes to solve a crime, you have to find out who’s covering it up.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I chose this book for my April “first reads” offering, which provides early access to an editors’ pick—free with Amazon Prime. I didn’t know anything about the author—who as it turns out, is from Durham, and the book is set in a fictional town in North Carolina by the Virginia state line. The multi-layered part of my 6-word review refers to issues like the fact that the podcaster who is investigating the 50-year-old unsolved murder is the granddaughter of the detective who was investigating it back then, Alzheimer’s plays a part in both the past story line and the present-day story line, jurisdiction issues between cops, and animosity between cops and journalists, just to name a few. In addition to the great disparity in investigative techniques (think evidence-gathering), these issues add to the complexity of trying to solve a 50-year-old murder.

Book #13
Lessons in Chemistry book cover
Book: Lessons in Chemistry Author: Bonnie Garmus
Pages: 400 Duration: 03/21/23 – 03/23/23 (3 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: historical fiction, feminism, romance
📕10-word summary: Brilliant scientist insists on her place in a misogynistic field.
🖌6-word review: Winning protagonist. Precocious daughter. Overdone dog.
Description:* Chemist Elizabeth Zott is not your average woman. In fact, Elizabeth Zott would be the first to point out that there is no such thing as an average woman. But it’s the early 1960s and her all-male team at Hastings Research Institute takes a very unscientific view of equality. Except for one: Calvin Evans; the lonely, brilliant, Nobel–prize nominated grudge-holder who falls in love with—of all things—her mind. True chemistry results. But like science, life is unpredictable. Which is why a few years later Elizabeth Zott finds herself not only a single mother, but the reluctant star of America’s most beloved cooking show Supper at Six. Elizabeth’s unusual approach to cooking (“combine one tablespoon acetic acid with a pinch of sodium chloride”) proves revolutionary. But as her following grows, not everyone is happy. Because as it turns out, Elizabeth Zott isn’t just teaching women to cook. She’s daring them to change the status quo.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I loved a lot about this book, but I didn’t love all of it, which is why I gave it 4 stars instead of 5. I love dogs, honestly, but “Sixty-Thirty” started getting on my nerves once his vocabulary exceeded 250 words, devolving into magical realism, which is not my favorite genre and felt misplaced in a book so steadfastly devoted to science. I consider myself a feminist, and I love that Elizabeth Zott, the protagonist, unflinchingly fought for her rightful place in her field and modeled that behavior for her daughter. However, one review noted, “While the novel focuses on serious themes of misogyny, feminism, family, and self-worth, it never gets didactic,” which I have to disagree with. I thought there was “a lot of didacticism going on,” although I’m open to the idea that it only felt like that because it was sort of “preaching to the choir” to me. With all that negativity said, I did enjoy this book immensely, and I’m glad it’s in such demand and is being made into a series by Apple TV. This was a Mostly Social Book Club book.

Book #12
The Maid's Diary book cover
Book: The Maid’s Diary Author: Loreth Anne White
Pages: 369 Duration: 03/07/23 – 03/13/23 (7 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: fiction, psychological thriller, mystery
📕10-word summary: Maid snoops one time too many, one time too deep.
🖌6-word review: Has more twists than Chubby Checker.
Description:* Kit Darling is a maid with a snooping problem. She’s the “invisible girl,” compelled to poke into her wealthy clients’ closely guarded lives. It’s a harmless hobby until Kit sees something she can’t unsee in the home of her brand-new clients: a secret so dark it could destroy the privileged couple expecting their first child. This makes Kit dangerous to the couple. In turn, it makes the couple—who might kill to keep their secret—dangerous to Kit.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: It took a while to settle in on who all the people were, but after that it was a roller coaster ride with enough twists that I can’t remember ever thinking as much as I did throughout this book—and more so as the end neared: “Oh, that person did it.” “Oh wait, they didn’t???” “Oh no, that person did it!” “Wait… what??? I have a hard time imagining how authors think up such diabolic and intricate plot lines in psychological thrillers like this one. I wholeheartedly agree with Sandra Hoover’s review that states: “The Maid’s Diary is another excellent example of White’s expertise in shifting between various unreliable narrators and past/present timelines to deliver a dark, twisted tale that’s nearly impossible for readers and amateur sleuths to solve before the reveal.”

Book #11
Anxious People book cover
Book: Anxious People Author: Fredrik Backman
Pages: 336 Duration: 02/20/23 – 02/23/23 (4 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: fiction, mystery, humor
📕10-word summary: Group of non-hostage hostages learn about each other and life.
🖌6-word review: I literally laughed out loud throughout.
Description:* A poignant comedy about a crime that never took place, a would-be bank robber who disappears into thin air, and eight extremely anxious strangers who find they have more in common than they ever imagined. *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I was a little apprehensive starting this book, because I started this author’s (very popular) book, A Man Called Ove, back in 2017 and ended up abandoning it—mostly due to the writing, in which the use of similes was painful to me. (Think 2-3 per paragraph.) So, I was ecstatic when I found myself laughing out loud within the first few pages of this book—and that didn’t stop throughout. (BTW, that’s not LOL, but literally laughing out loud.) Particularly notable are the chapters of police interviews, not a few of which while reading I thought of Abbott & Costello’s Who’s on First? shtick. Lest you think the book might devolve into slapstick, fear not. There are many very poignant moments and insights throughout as well, and running just below the surface (for the most part) is the very serious theme of suicide. This was a Mostly Social Book Club book.

Book #10
Spare book cover
Book: Spare Author: Prince Harry
Pages: 410 Duration: 02/24/23 – 03/04/23 (9 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: nonfiction, memoir, mental health
📕10-word summary: Prince Harry presents a very enlightening view of royal life.
🖌6-word review: If you’re resistant to reading—rethink.
Description:* For the first time, Prince Harry tells his own story, chronicling his journey with raw, unflinching honesty. A landmark publication, Spare is full of insight, revelation, self-examination, and hard-won wisdom about the eternal power of love over grief.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I was resistant to reading this book, because I don’t give a flying f*ck about the royal family’s comings and goings. However, two people I know who have read it had opinions about it that changed my mind. And, one of them loaned me the book—(thanks Sam!). If you’re like me and think this book will be “fluff,” or “gossipy,” or ‘unrelatable,” you might want to rethink that. I found it to be none of those things. I realize now that the reason I thought those things was because of the very thing this book addresses—the media, or the press, or the “paps,” as they’re referred to in this book. In fact, now finished with the book, I read the recent news headlines through an entirely different lens about Prince Harry and Meghan being evicted from Frogmore Cottage. If you fancy yourself as someone with an open mind, this might be a good time to exercise that. I think you’ll find that Prince Harry is a person of substance. And it’s well (ghost)written. Aside: I had no idea Meghan Markle was in Suits (which I don’t watch), but I wanted to see her act, so I watched this 12-minute montage of her character’s “best moments on Suits.”

Book #9
Necessary Lies book cover
Book: Necessary Lies Author: Diane Chamberlain
Pages: 352 Duration: 02/17/23 – 02/18/23 (2 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: historical fiction, poverty, healthcare
📕10-word summary: Ivy Hart is the next family candidate for state-mandated sterilization.
🖌6-word review: Compelling fictional account of nonfictional measures.
Description:* After losing her parents, 15-year-old Ivy Hart is left to care for her grandmother, older sister and nephew as tenants on a small tobacco farm. As she struggles with her grandmother’s aging, her sister’s mental illness and her own epilepsy, she realizes they might need more than she can give. When Jane Forrester takes a position as Grace County’s newest social worker, she doesn’t realize just how much her help is needed. She quickly becomes emotionally invested in her clients’ lives, causing tension with her boss and her new husband. But as Jane is drawn in by the Hart women, she begins to discover the secrets of the small farm—secrets much darker than she would have guessed. Soon, she must decide whether to take drastic action to help them, or risk losing the battle against everything she believes is wrong. *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: Set in Raleigh with local mentions: Hayes Barton (neighborhood, pharmacy, & “grill“), Cameron Park (neighborhood), Cameron Village (shopping area; now called Village District), (Clyde) Cooper’s BBQ, and WKIX (radio station). Although the characters in Necessary Lies are fictional, the Eugenics Sterilization Program was not. From 1929 until 1975, N.C. sterilized over 8,000 of its citizens. The program targeted the “mentally defective,” the “feebleminded,” inmates in mental institutions and training schools, those suffering from epilepsy, and others whose sterilization was considered “for the public good.” When Governor Bev Perdue took office in 2008, she created the NC Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation, which on June 22, 2011, held a hearing where victims or their loved ones could tell their stories. It’s at this hearing that Ivy and Jane (at the end of the book) are preparing to testify. You can watch the actual hearing in this coverage by WRAL News. This was a Mostly Social Book Club book.

Book #8
Medicare Demystified book cover
Book: Medicare Demystified Author: Ronald Kahan, MD
Pages: 232 Duration: 02/13/23 – 02/17/23 (5 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: nonfiction, healthcare, insurance
📕10-word summary: A physician explains this unbelievably complicated system in laymen’s terms.
🖌6-word review: Your mouth’ll gasp; your head’ll shake.
Description:* Medicare Demystified is a straightforward, easy-to-follow, step-by-step guide for deciphering Medicare options, enrollment, and care. Written by a practicing physician with over thirty years’ experience, it provides invaluable insight into the costs and benefits senior citizens must evaluate when selecting and using their Medicare plans. An approachable, unbiased text, Medicare Demystified is a must-read for anyone seeking practical answers and advice regarding a complex subject that we all must deal with as we get older. This book will save you time, money, and frustration. *From amazon.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: To my friend’s credit, she read this book even though she’s not even close to 65 yet, because she wanted to “be prepared,” and I’m so glad she loaned it to me! (Thanks, Sharon!) I entered into the Medicare system in October, retiring on my 65th birthday. I was glad to learn that I’ve pretty much made the best decisions for me (e.g., the biggest being signing up for Original Medicare vs. a Medicare Advantage program), although a big reason for that was because when Sharon heard (after having read this book) that I was taking the state of NC’s offer of a Medicare Advantage plan for $4 month, she told me I might want to do a little more research on that decision before making it. I did, and I ended up declining the Medicare Advantage plan and signed up for Original Medicare Plan G instead. I learned something on the very first page of this book: “You’re eligible for Medicare if you’re 65 years old and you’ve been a U.S. citizen or a legal resident of the U.S. for 5 continuous years. That’s it. There are no additional requirements. It doesn’t matter how long you have worked or how many years you have paid FICA (Social Security) or Medicare taxes.” (I thought for sure you had to have paid some amount of FICA or Medicare taxes for some amount of time to be eligible.) The book is nicely organized by parts, with Part I having a respective chapter for Part A (hospital) , Part B (medical), Medicare Supplement (a.k.a. “Medigap”), Part D (prescriptions), and Part C (a.k.a. Medicare Advantage). I found Part II the most helpful, as it’s all about using your Medicare plan once you’re on it, and there are a lot of nuanced considerations that I would never have dreamed of considering before reading this book—the biggest takeaway probably being: Always ask doctors, physicians, providers: “Do you accept assignment?”

Book #7
The Last Mrs. Parrish book cover
Book: The Last Mrs. Parrish Author: Liv Constantine
Pages: 400 Duration: 02/08/23 – 02/12/23 (5 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: fiction, mystery, psychological thriller
📕10-word summary: Conniving Lana Crump eventually lies in the bed she made.
🖌6-word review: Psychological warfare at its absolute best.
Description:* Amber Patterson is fed up. She’s tired of being a nobody: a plain, invisible woman who blends into the background. She deserves more—a life of money and power like the one blond-haired, blue-eyed goddess Daphne Parrish takes for granted. To everyone in the exclusive town of Bishops Harbor, Connecticut, Daphne—a socialite and philanthropist—and her real-estate mogul husband, Jackson, are a couple straight out of a fairy tale. Amber’s envy could eat her alive… if she didn’t have a plan. Amber uses Daphne’s compassion and caring to insinuate herself into the family’s life—the first step in a meticulous scheme to undermine her. With shocking turns and dark secrets that will keep you guessing until the very end, it’s a fresh, juicy, and utterly addictive thriller from a diabolically imaginative talent. *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: This book was a wild ride of deliciously conniving viciousness. It’s a story told in 2 points-of-view (POVs), with part I being from Amber Patterson’s POV and part II being from Daphne Jackson’s POV. Let’s just say that Amber puts the con in conniving and her complete lack of conscience, compassion, or remorse leaves her with zero. redeeming. qualities. And Daphne could be the poster child for the saying: “Stop judging others by what you see. Because, what you see is what they want you to see.” It all comes to an explosive end in which all 3 of the main characters get their due. A friend recommended this book to me (Thanks, Nicole!), and once the library waiting lists for it subside, I’ll be making it a Mostly Social Book Club book.

Book #6
When Brains Dream: Exploring the Science and Mystery of Sleep book cover
Book: When Brains Dream: Exploring the Science and Mystery of Sleep Author: Antonio Zadra, Robert Stickgold
Pages: 336 Duration: 02/01/23 – 02/06/23 (6 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: nonfiction, science, psychology, neuroscience
📕10-word summary: Text-book-like delve into how the brain creates and processes dreams.
🖌6-word review: Excellent, but more examples would improve.
Description:* Questions on the origins and meaning of dreams are as old as humankind, and as confounding and exciting today as when nineteenth-century scientists first attempted to unravel them. Why do we dream? Do dreams hold psychological meaning or are they merely the reflection of random brain activity? What purpose do dreams serve? When Brains Dream addresses these core questions about dreams while illuminating the most up-to-date science in the field. Written by two world-renowned sleep and dream researchers, it debunks common myths; that we only dream in REM sleep, for example—while acknowledging the mysteries that persist around both the science and experience of dreaming. *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: This work is classified as nonfiction, but due to its reading-level difficulty and academic-style writing, including beginning with—basically—a literature review, I’d further qualify it as a textbook. At its core is these researchers NEXTUP: A Model of How and Why We Dream. NEXTUP is an acronym for network exploration to understand possibilities. My favorite two chapters were The Mischievous Content of Dreams and What Do We Dream About? And Why?. And within those chapters, I found the research on these topics the most interesting: what the most common typical dreams are, what the difference is between nightmares and bad dreams, and what makes dreams so damn bizarre. And finally, being the listwhore that I am, I liked two ordered lists: 1) an 8-step Dream Incubation Technique, and 2) Seven Steps to Becoming a Lucid Dreamer. The only reason I gave this book 4 stars instead of 5 is because it’s jammed pack with theory, but extremely lacking in examples that would help illustrate several of the more esoteric points.

Book #5
The Thursday Murder Club book cover
Book: The Thursday Murder Club Author: Richard Osman
Pages: 463 Duration: 01/23/23 – 01/28/23 (6 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, mystery, crime
📕10-word summary: The cold-case-solving septuagenarian sleuths’ latest case hits close to home.
🖌6-word review: I wish my rating included half-stars.
Description:* In a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet weekly in the Jigsaw Room to discuss unsolved crimes; together they call themselves the Thursday Murder Club. When a local developer is found dead with a mysterious photograph left next to the body, the Thursday Murder Club suddenly find themselves in the middle of their first live case. As the bodies begin to pile up, can our unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer, before it’s too late? *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I’ll say right off that I wanted to give this book 4.5 stars, but since I don’t have half-star ratings, I had to go with a 4. I just couldn’t justify a 5 for two reasons: 1) There ended up being a lot of deaths (counting murders, suicides, and murder-suicides) revealed in the course of investigating the 2 main murders in the story, which made me think a couple of times, “Okay, who is this person, again, and how are they connected to that person?” or “How does this person fit into the grand scheme of the two main murders?” and 2) I really don’t care for crime mysteries that involve mafias, cartels, or any other kind of organized crime. Of all of the backstories of all of the deaths, I found Father Mackie’s the most compelling. Albeit, I was completely distracted by his collar being referred to as a dog collar (many times; I might even argue too many times), because I’ve been around a lot of priests—even had 4 in my family—and I never heard their collars referred to as such. But, apparently, it is a thing. With all that said, I would highly recommend this book and am considering making it my next Mostly Social Book Club book.

Book #4
Lucy by the Sea book cover
Book: Lucy by the Sea Author: Elizabeth Strout
Pages: 286 Duration: 01/19/23 – 01/21/23 (3 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: fiction, family, pandemic, romance
📕10-word summary: Fascinating peek into one person’s journey through the COVID-19 pandemic.
🖌6-word review: Keenly observed. Amazingly understated. Highly relatable.
Description:* As a panicked world goes into lockdown, Lucy Barton is uprooted from her life in Manhattan and bundled away to a small town in Maine by her ex-husband and on-again, off-again friend, William. For the next several months, it’s just Lucy, William, and their complex past together in a little house nestled against the moody, swirling sea. *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I absolutely loved this book. There’s something about the author’s voice, and by “voice” I mean “the way her personality comes through on the page, via everything from word choice and sentence structure to tone and punctuation,” that makes the story keenly observed, amazingly understated, and highly relatable. A fun surprise was when a character talked about a woman named Olive Kitteridge, who lived in the retirement community at which she worked. Olive Kitteridge is the protagonist of two other books by this author—Olive Kitteridge, and its sequel, Olive, Again, both of which I read in 2020. This book, Lucy by the Sea, was published in 2022 and Olive Kitteridge was published in 2008, so I’m guessing it’s the same character, although in this book, it never alludes to Olive having been a retired schoolteacher, which she was in the other books. If you’re not a reader, but Olive Kitteridge sounds familiar to you, you may be familiar with the HBO Olive Kitteridge series, starring Frances McDormand. The other thing that I really liked about this book was how it wrote about the gravity of the COVID-19 pandemic without being triggering (at least to me). This was a Mostly Social Book Club book, chosen by Mary.

Book #3
Life Will Be the Death of Me: . . . and You Too! book cover
Book: Life Will Be the Death of Me: . . . and You Too! Author: Chelsea Handler
Pages: 256 Duration: 01/08/23 – 01/10/23 (3 days)
Rating: ★★★☆☆ Genres: nonfiction, memoir, humor, mental health
📕10-word summary: Entertainer reflects on life including sharing snippets of her therapy.
🖌6-word review: Loved the therapy and dogs chapters.
Description:* In a haze of vape smoke on a rare windy night in L.A. in the fall of 2016, Chelsea Handler daydreams about what life will be like with a woman in the White House. And then Donald Trump happens. In a torpor of despair, she decides that she’s had enough of the privileged bubble she’s lived in—a bubble within a bubble—and that it’s time to make some changes, both in her personal life and in the world at large. *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: For someone who claims to not read very much nonfiction, I’m 2 for 3 books in 2023. What’s up with that? Plus, I don’t like stand-up comedy nor had I ever heard of Chelsea Handler until a few weeks ago. But, I read this because it was in one of those free-book kiosks by the sidewalk on my walk to the coffee shop last week. After I started the book, I watched a couple of YouTube clips of Chelsea’s, and I didn’t care for any of them. I kept reading though, because by then I’d gotten into the chapters in which she shares several of her therapy sessions (I love that sh*t) and about her propensity to adopt Chow Chows (and her relationship with 4 that she has owned). I gave this only 3 stars for the reasons I’ve mentioned here, and because I’d be hard-pressed to recommend it to anyone without a lot of caveats.

Book #2
North to Paradise book cover
Book: North to Paradise Author: Ousman Umar
Pages: 140 Duration: 01/04/23 – 01/05/23 (2 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: nonfiction, memoir, African culture, travel, education
📕10-word summary: Harrowing journey from Ghana to the “Land of the Whites.”
🖌6-word review: Unspeakable situations penned without distressing details.
Description:* The inspiring true story of one man’s treacherous boyhood journey from a rural village in Ghana to the streets of Barcelona―and the path that led him home. Ousman Umar is a shaman’s son born in a small village in Ghana. Though his mother died giving birth, he spent a contented childhood working the fields, setting traps in the jungle, and living off the land. Still, as strange and wondrous flying machines crisscrossed the skies overhead, Ousman dreamed of a different life. And so, when he was only twelve years old, he left his village and began what would be a five-year journey to Europe. *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I unequivocally prefer fiction over non-fiction, which is supported by the number of nonfiction vs. fiction books I’ve read over the previous 3 years. (16 of 102 in 2023, 4 out of 20 in 2022, and 11 out of 75 in 2021) But, I loved this nonfiction book, and what I liked most about it is that although truly horrifying things happened to this author, he related them in a way that wasn’t difficult to read. I get the notion that good writers can make you “experience” the pain they’re describing, therefore creating empathy. But I also know that reading about people’s horrifying struggles in explicit detail can take an emotional toil on the reader. And I’m in a place where I’m able to appreciate the unspeakable conditions experienced on this author’s journey without being drawn into the gut-wrenching details of them. I also loved how this author shared stories of meeting both the lowest of lowlifes as well as his experience meeting amazingly open, empathetic, generous, and loving people. This was a Mostly Social Book Club book, chosen by Sharon.

Book #1
The Next Girl book cover
Book: The Next Girl Author: Carla Kovach
Pages: 352 Duration: 01/01/23 – 01/03/23 (3 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, mystery, crime, thriller
📕10-word summary: A 4-year-long-missing woman’s found baby heats up her “cold case.”
🖌6-word review: Confusing start. Compelling middle. Thrilling climax.
Description:* Deborah Jenkins pulls her coat around her as she sets out on her short walk home in the pouring rain. But she never makes it home that night. And she is never seen again… Four years later, an abandoned baby girl is found wrapped in dirty rags on a doorstep. An anonymous phone call urges the police to run a DNA test on the baby. But nobody is prepared for the results. *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I was confused a bit at the beginning of the book, when a lot of characters were introduced who seemed completely unrelated to each other—enough that I had to look back to see if this person was someone I’d already “met” or a “new” person. It was fine once it became apparent who was who, although there was entirely too much talk about the look and quality of the symptoms of a cold (think snot, phlegm, etc.) that got passed between characters for a while. The last few chapters were action-packed enough that I pictured them being the climax of a movie thriller.

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