What I Read: November & December 2022

Catherine Steadman: The Family Game

Harry is a novelist on the brink of stardom; Edward, her husband-to-be, is seemingly perfect. In love and freshly engaged, their bliss is interrupted by the reemergence of the Holbecks, Edward’s eminent family and the embodiment of American old money. For years, they’ve dominated headlines and pulled society’s strings, and Edward left them all behind to forge his own path. After all, even though he’s long severed ties with his family, Edward is set to inherit it all. Harriet is drawn to the glamour and sophistication of the Holbecks, who seem to welcome her with open arms, but everything changes when she meets Robert, the inescapably magnetic head of the family. At their first meeting, Robert slips Harry a cassette tape, revealing a shocking confession which sets the inevitable game in motion.

This book reminded me a little bit of the Ready or Not movie which I loved! This is definitely my favourite Catherine Steadman book so far. Even though it’s a slow burn it kept my attention all throughout and I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. Stories about uber rich, old money families behaving badly have started to become a common theme in contemporary fiction, but Catherine Steadman’s take on this plot feels entirely original.This was a good cat-and-mouse game between Harriet and the Holbeck family, and let me tell you something, this family is all sorts of messed up. Like, 52 shades of messed up. I loved the games, suspense, psychologically disturbed characters, and atmospheric settings and I think this could be a great movie!

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

Sophie Cousens: Before I Do

Head-in-the-stars Audrey is about to marry down-to-earth Josh. Though they are polar opposites, they have a healthy, stable relationship; Josh is just what Audrey needs. But romance should be unpredictable and full of fireworks, and as the big day approaches, Audrey’s found herself wondering if Josh really is The One. So, when Josh’s sister shows up to the rehearsal dinner with Fred, Audrey’s What If? guy–the man she met six years ago and had one amazing day with–Audrey finds herself torn. Surely Fred’s appearance the night before she is due to get married can’t be a coincidence. And when everything that could go wrong with the wedding starts to go wrong, Audrey has to ask herself: Is fate trying to stop her from making a huge mistake? Or does destiny just have a really twisty sense of humour?

I have to say, going into this book I expected one thing and very much got something else…but luckily, this was a good thing! I think the most memorable aspect of this book was the way Cousens took some tropes that have been done many times and combined them in a totally unique way! I know some people love romance books that are completely predictable, but what was a breath of fresh air for me is that this one truly wasn’t at all. Even late in the story, I was still questioning what Audrey was going to do and what the ‘right’ choice would be. This conflict, alongside a cast of lovable side characters and some emotional depth in Audrey’s relationship with her mom added layer upon layer to the story and kept the narrative interesting. Highly recommend to all you rom-com lovers out there!

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Bonnie Garmus: Lessons in Chemistry

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 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. 

I have seen mostly all rave reviews everywhere on the internet on this one and thought I was going to love it too. I definitely had high hopes going into this book. For me personally, it was unfortunately just okay. It seemed to drag on and just wasn’t as interesting of a storyline as I hoped. I liked Elizabeth in the beginning and felt bad about how she was treated in her male-dominated world but by the time we got to her cooking show, she was starting to wear on me. I agree with other readers that Elizabeth Zott felt like a woman that was pulled out of the present but mistakenly written into the ’50s. Also why is it marketed as laugh-out-loud funny? It really wasn’t funny! Actually, it should come with trigger warning for violent rape, suicide, and death of a partner/grief. Also, I absolutely hated dog’s point of view chapters! What was that about?! That being said, I liked the concept of a 1950s woman wanting to prove herself and be recognised as more than a housewife and have her intelligence valued is an important topic. Also I loved the ending but overall just average for me.

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Jennifer Hillier: Things We Do in the Dark

When Paris Peralta is arrested in her own bathroom—covered in blood, holding a straight razor, her celebrity husband dead in the bathtub behind her—she knows she’ll be charged with murder. But as bad as this looks, it’s not what worries her the most. With the unwanted media attention now surrounding her, it’s only a matter of time before someone from her long hidden past recognizes her and destroys the new life she’s worked so hard to build, along with any chance of a future. Twenty-five years earlier, Ruby Reyes, known as the Ice Queen, was convicted of a similar murder in a trial that riveted Canada in the early nineties. Reyes knows who Paris really is, and when she’s unexpectedly released from prison, she threatens to expose all of Paris’s secrets. Left with no other choice, Paris must finally confront the dark past she escaped, once and for all. Because the only thing worse than a murder charge are two murder charges.

Not quite as thrilling or suspenseful as Jar of Hearts, but this was a captivating story about a young woman running from her past and the lengths she takes to make sure it doesn’t catch up to her. I really enjoyed how the narrative is structured – the shifts between present and past, as well as the different POVs, making sure the reader is given as much information as possible to really understand the characters and their motives. One might argue that a little too much information is given, as it’s very easy to figure out the halfway point “twist” very early on. But that didn’t bother me because I was just so invested in the characters. I deducted a point just because it was a bit slow.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Jill Santopolo: The Light We Lost

Lucy is faced with a life-altering choice. But before she can make her decision, she must start her story—their story—at the very beginning. Lucy and Gabe meet as seniors at Columbia University on a day that changes both of their lives forever. Together, they decide they want their lives to mean something, to matter. When they meet again a year later, it seems fated—perhaps they’ll find life’s meaning in each other. But then Gabe becomes a photojournalist assigned to the Middle East and Lucy pursues a career in New York. What follows is a thirteen-year journey of dreams, desires, jealousies, betrayals, and, ultimately, of love. Was it fate that brought them together? Is it choice that has kept them away? Their journey takes Lucy and Gabe continents apart, but never out of each other’s hearts.

I don’t know how come I haven’t read this book before but…wow! I don’t even know how to review this book. It’s one of the most emotionally engaging books I’ve read in a long time. My heart broke so many times while reading it. It’s gutwrenching. But most of all it’s just beautiful. It’s a love story about love, the choices we make, and all the what ifs we have to live with. There is nothing that I didn’t like and I finished it in one day! I don’t want to write too much about it because it’s the best to go blind so you can feel all the feels! The Light We Lost is simply beautiful and compelling, it will stay with me for a very long time. Definitely one of my favourite reads of 2022. 

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Gabrielle Zevin: Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow

On a bitter-cold day, in the December of his junior year at Harvard, Sam Masur exits a subway car and sees, amid the hordes of people waiting on the platform, Sadie Green. He calls her name. For a moment, she pretends she hasn’t heard him, but then, she turns, and a game begins: a legendary collaboration that will launch them to stardom. These friends, intimates since childhood, borrow money, beg favors, and, before even graduating college, they have created their first blockbuster, Ichigo. Overnight, the world is theirs. Not even twenty-five years old, Sam and Sadie are brilliant, successful, and rich, but these qualities won’t protect them from their own creative ambitions or the betrayals of their hearts.

I absolutely didn’t think this would be the book I liked so much because it’s mainly a character-driven story about friendship. But I love video games, I loved playing them when I was younger and sometimes I even play them now so that was the main reason I decided to give this a go(on top of all the hype around it). I’m so glad I picked it up! This is my first taste of author Gabrielle Zavin, and I have to say I was impressed, this is beautifully written and smart storytelling that goes back and forth in time. It must be said that this book is VERY MUCH about video games. Sadie and Sam play them, talk about them, design them, and promote them over the span of thirty years.  It’s a chunky book but one that I read quickly, I loved the pacing and hopping around. This was a complex, thought-provoking, and original novel. I was invested in the characters, and I even got teary-eyed towards the end. I won’t forget these characters; this is a book that is going to stay with me for a long time. 

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Mia Sheridan: Archers’s Voice

When Bree Prescott arrives in the sleepy, lakeside town of Pelion, Maine, she hopes against hope that this is the place where she will finally find the peace she so desperately seeks. On her first day there, her life collides with Archer Hale, an isolated man who holds a secret agony of his own. A man no one else sees.

I was thinking for a long time what to write about this book. I picked it up because it was hyped so I was curious and I expected something wow but I don’t know…It was just ok for me. I can’t say anything really bad about it. It was sweet, with the most loveable characters ever and there were some cute cheesy moments and, of course, some drama towards the end that made this book into a page-turner. Maybe, It was just too cringy and too cute for me. But if you are into cute romance stories intervened with lots of emotional baggage and tragedy, this is the one for you!

⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

Holly Jackson: Five Survive

Eighteen year old Red and her friends are on a road trip in an RV, heading to the beach for Spring Break. It’s a long drive but spirits are high. Until the RV breaks down in the middle of nowhere. There’s no mobile phone reception and nobody around to help. And as the wheels are shot out, one by one, the friends realise that this is no accident. There’s a sniper out there in the dark watching them and he knows exactly who they are. One of the group has a secret that the sniper is willing to kill for.A game of cat-and-mouse plays out as the group desperately tries to get help and to work out which member of the group is the target. Buried secrets are forced to light in the cramped, claustrophobic setting of the RV, and tensions within the group will reach deadly levels. Not everyone will survive the night.

I read the whole Good Girl trilogy and I loved it so when Five Survive came out I was very excited and got it straight away. I have to say that I wasn’t impressed. I liked the isolated setting and the mystery of why the sniper was holding them hostage. I think because the whole book is covering only 8 hours, it made parts quick and thrilling, an edge-of-your-seat type and is clever with the dialogue. At other times though, it was a slow burn and quite frustrating. Also, it was repetitive at times. For example references to the length of the RV and curtain pattern drained me! Another thing I don’t like in any book is when someone constantly blames themselves for a death that had nothing to do with them. I understand regretting your last words to that person but that does not make their death/murder your fault. So that made me very annoyed with the main character Red and it’s never good when you don’t like the main character. Actually, I think that this book would have benefited from multiple POVs so we could get to know the other 5 characters beyond their name, it would have added more suspense to the build-up of their secrets. Even though there were aspects of Five Survive that I couldn’t stand, I’d still recommend this one for a quick and easy, YA escapism type read. I’ll still definitely read Holly Jackson’s next release. 

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Claire McGowan: Are You Awake?

Mary hasn’t slept in what feels like years. Her two young children never let her rest, and so one exhausting night, in the middle of a London heatwave, she escapes to a nearby park for some air. Tim can’t sleep. It doesn’t feel safe after the terrible thing that happened to him. Seeking solace outside, he encounters a sleepless Mary in the park. There, the two strangers witness what looks like a violent attack in the window of a neighbouring house. Shocked at what they’ve seen, Tim and Mary form an unlikely bond, desperate to find clues. When they see news reports of a missing woman, who was last seen walking alone not far from them, the pair are convinced it’s her they saw being attacked. The police don’t believe them, but when they hear of a potential link to an old murder and a string of disappearances from the area, pressure mounts to find her before it’s too late.

This a quick and easy read that I’m a little bit undecided about. On the whole, I did quite enjoy it but somehow it just seemed to be lacking something and the plot seemed to drag a bit halfway through. The story is told mainly from the points of view of Mary and Tim who are both struggling to cope lack of sleep and with life in general. The first problem for me was that I didn’t warm up to any of them. I did feel the tension of a sleep-deprived mom and a raging insomniac and I think that part was well done. I just thought the actions of the various characters were a bit over the top and unrealistic.

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Nicholas Sparks: The Wish

1996 was the year that changed everything for Maggie Dawes. Sent away at sixteen to live with an aunt she barely knew in Ocracoke, a remote village on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, she could think only of the friends and family she left behind . . . until she meets Bryce Trickett, one of the few teenagers on the island. Handsome, genuine, and newly admitted to West Point, Bryce gradually shows her how much there is to love about the wind-swept beach town—and introduces her to photography, a passion that will define the rest of her life. By 2019, Maggie is a renowned travel photographer. She splits her time between running a successful gallery in New York and photographing remote locations around the world. But this year she is unexpectedly grounded over Christmas, struggling to come to terms with a sobering medical diagnosis. Increasingly dependent on a young assistant, she finds herself becoming close to him. As they count down the last days of the season together, she begins to tell him the story of another Christmas, decades earlier—and the love that set her on a course she never could have imagined.

What a truly amazing story. Like only Nicholas Sparks can do, I felt as though I was watching a movie while reading this book. Every character, every scene, and every circumstance is perfectly written. It takes a lot for me to cry while reading a book but I got teary eyes multiple times. Such a touching, relatable, wonderful story. The story is about loss and pain but it is also a story of love, hope, and memories. I did figure out some of what was going to happen though but that didn’t bother me or stopped me from flipping the pages at speed! I hope they will turn this into a movie!

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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