Mini-Reviews of Recent Reads – February 2023

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There are so many great books to look forward to this year, and I got to read one of my most anticipated this month! It did not disappoint, and I hope this bodes well for the rest of my reading year.

I have several winners in my reviews this month–a couple of disappointments as well, but you can’t win them all.

You can also see my reviews on YouTube. If you’re a regular user of YouTube, I’d love it if you’d subscribe to my channel!

I hope you enjoy the “did you know” facts about each book. Learning a little more about the books and the authors often enriches my reading experience–let me know if you find this interesting or helpful.

Also don’t miss these posts:

Here’s what I’ve been reading:

Print and E-Books

The Make-Up Test by Jenny L Howe

The Make-Up Test

Author: Jenny L. Howe
Publish Date: September 13, 2022
Source: St. Martin’s Press via Netgalley
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance

Allison is thrilled to be starting a prestigious Ph.D. program in medieval lit–until Colin–her ex from undergrad, the guy who broke her heart and stole her academic thunder–shows up in her graduate program. Not only does she have to study with him, but they also have to TA together and are competing for the mentorship she’s been dreaming of.

She’s furious, but Colin is intent on convincing her he’s changed–and getting her back. She doesn’t trust him, but soon she feels herself drawn to him again.

Enemies to lovers is not my favorite romance trope anyway, and unfortunately, I wasn’t convinced by Colin–that he had changed, that he was then or is now worth Allison’s time. I like a good romance set in academia, but without a compelling love interest to root for, this was just okay for me.

Did You Know?

  • Howe was inspired by her own academic experience as a medieval lit grad student. I love that she’s a serious literature academic who writes rom-coms!
  • She wants to give plus-size main characters happily ever afters; this is actually something she does in a lot of her books–she wants main characters that look like her and are confident in themselves.
  • Howe also likes to include animals–especially dogs–in her books because they give her another way to add insight into a character (She seems like a delight and I plan to try more of her books–this particular character just didn’t work for me.).

Amazon | Bookshop.org | Libro.fm | Barnes & Noble

Keya Das's Second Act by Sopan Deb

Keya Das’s Second Act

Author: Sopan Deb
Publish Date: July 5, 2022
Source: Simon & Schuster via Netgalley
Genres: Contemporary Fiction

When Keya Das was a teenager, she told her family a secret she’d been keeping: she was in love with her best friend, Pamela. It didn’t go well.

Soon after, Keya died in a car accident. Since then, her family has struggled with their mistake. When they find a box in the attic with a play that Keya and Pamela wrote, they decide that it might just be a way to honor Keya.

While I enjoyed the growth and storyline of Santanu, Keya’s father, I found the character development of the other family members lacking–especially of Keya herself. I would have liked to know more about her and less about the criminal past of Mitali’s new boyfriend, Neesh. This had a slow start and while I saw it through, I would have cared more about Keya’s play getting made if I cared more about Keya herself.

Did You Know?

  • Deb was inspired by his own upbringing in the Bengali community in New Jersey, and also by a friend’s difficult coming-out story
  • He wanted to explore some things that are unusual for older generations in the Bengali community: therapy, dating, divorce
  • It was important to Deb that the Bengali culture he was writing about not be “othered”–which meant not defining traditionally Bengali things like holidays and having every family member (except the grandmother), be born in the U.S.

Amazon | Bookshop.org | Libro.fm | Barnes & Noble

Audiobooks

The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness

Authors & Narrators: Robert Waldinger, MD and Marc Schulz, PhD
Publish Date: July 5, 2022
Source: Libro.fm ALC
Genres: Nonfiction

For more than 80 years, the Harvard Study of Adult Development has been following participants. In this novel summarizing findings thus far, the current directors make the case that relationships are the key to a happy life. 

Strong connections don’t just make for a happier life, but they also predict the overall health of our bodies and brains. Each chapter in this book delves into the different kinds of relationships–family, work, romantic, friendship, etc.–and how we can and should cultivate them in order to live “the good life.”

While at times a bit repetitive–the finding is clearly stated upfront and repeated again and again–it is interesting to hear the stories of the various participants. It is definitely a reminder (especially for the extreme introverts–ahem–among us) of the value of reaching out and spending time with loved ones.

Did You Know?

  • Waldinger is the 4th director of the study. They hope and expect the study to continue many decades into the future
  • When the study began in the 30s, it followed two groups of young men: one composed of Harvard students (John F. Kennedy, Jr., was one participant!), and the other of people who lived in inner-city Boston. Regardless of background–even when people had difficult childhoods–strong relationships are the driving factor for happiness, health, and in some cases, financial success.
  • The study has been working to correct and expand on the original lack of diversity, but the decades of data are still valuable. Many of the children of the original participants are now also participating in the study.

Amazon | Bookshop.org | Libro.fm | Barnes & Noble

Adelaide by Genevieve Wheeler

Adelaide

Authors: Genevieve Wheeler
Narrator: Caitlin Kelly
Publish Date: April 18, 2023
Source: Libro.fm ALC
Genres: Contemporary Fiction

Adelaide is a young American woman living in England. She’s fairly privileged and has good job, but she also has some past family difficulties and struggles with relationships after an abusive one in her teens.

When she meets Rory, she convinces herself it’s love, despite his flaky behavior and general ambivalence. When he experiences a tragedy, she turns herself inside out for him–while he demands more.

This is a poignant novel about how people–and women in particular–are prone to be self-sacrificing caretakers–and manipulative people see this and take advantage of it, demanding they suppress any human needs until they reach a tipping point.

Adelaide is sweet and a little naive, you might feel frustrated with her, but what she does is so common. Her problems with relationships aren’t the most tragic in the world–but that’s also the point. Her emotions and mental health issues are real, and she is allowed to experience them, even when others are going through worse things.

I mostly loved Adelaide, even when I was frustrated with her; I hated Rory but he was familiar to me; and I loved Adelaide’s friends that held her up and kept her going. This will not be for everyone, but there was some nuance here about this particular time of life that I appreciated.

Did You Know?

  • Adelaide and Rory take center stage in the novel, but it’s Adelaide’s friends who quietly shine. Genevieve Wheeler, who is an American living in London herself, based many of them on real-life friends, and she pays tribute to them on her Instagram.

Amazon | Bookshop.org | Libro.fm | Barnes & Noble

I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai

I Have Some Questions for You

Authors: Rebecca Makkai
Narrator: Julia Whelan
Publish Date: February 21, 2023
Source: Libro.fm ALC
Genres: Literary Fiction, Mysteries & Thrillers

Bodie Kane is a podcaster and film professor who has been invited back to her boarding school in New Hampshire to teach a course. She isn’t nostalgic about her years at Granby; she was a misfit from Indiana, not wealthy like many classmates. Her memories are further marred by the murder of her former roommate, Thalia, in her senior year.

When her students decide to produce a podcast on Thalia’s case, she is drawn back into the murder and her past. She begins to doubt the guilt of the Black athletic trainer who was convicted; and instead, she starts to suspect a beloved music teacher who may have had a relationship with Thalia. In a unique construct, she narrates directly to him throughout this literary mystery.

Makkai also wrote The Great Believers, a favorite of mine, and she delivers here as well. She is masterful at juxtaposing events and attitudes in multiple timelines, making sharp points at just the right moments.

I was hooked both by the plot and mystery itself, but also by her examination of memory and how the trappings and high emotions of teen life make accurate memories so difficult. She peeled back layers of the characters Bodie thought she knew as a teen and revealed more from her adult lens, giving us an unintentionally unreliable narrator. This still has me thinking and will be one of my best of 2023.

Did You Know?

  • Makkai starts many of the passages by cataloging well-known crimes against girls and women–just short snippets of them. This is one of the themes of the book: the harm done to the bodies of women and girls, by others and by ourselves, in various ways throughout our lives, and how one of our tasks as adults is to reckon with that harm–if we survive it.
  • As a straight white woman, Makkai addresses race and the wrongful conviction of a black man through the lens of whiteness and what it means as far as privilege and protection within the criminal justice system.
    She says, “The one inherent structural flaw that I could not get away from is that because this is Bodie’s story, Omar’s story is fundamentally not centered. If I were going to level a criticism at my own book, one that I really couldn’t write my way out of, it would be that the book itself is marginalizing this guy’s experience because it’s not about him.”1
  • Makkai is one of my favorite Twitter follows. One of her procrastination hobbies is finding crazy houses on Zillow, and posting photo tours with commentary. Here’s one of her latest threads.

Sources: 1

Amazon | Bookshop.org | Libro.fm | Barnes & Noble

All the Dangerous Things by Stacy Willingham

All the Dangerous Things

Authors: Stacy Willingham
Narrator: Karissa Vacker
Publish Date: January 10, 2023
Source: Libro.fm ALC
Genres: Mysteries & Thrillers

One year ago, Isabelle’s infant son, Mason, was taken from his crib. Aside from naps, she hasn’t slept since and she’s obsessed with finding answers. Her husband has left, the police are tired of her. Only a true-crime podcaster seems interested in what she has to say. Her sleepless state brings up memories from her past, and she questions what she thinks she knows–about herself and everyone around her.

I usually hate the thriller trope of the slightly crazed woman that no one believes, but in this case, it worked so well. The desperate, sleepless mother with a history of sleepwalking brought me into her daily fever dream, trying to claw through the haze of the past–both that of a year ago and of her childhood.

I was hooked on this audiobook–it was dark, surprising, and completely satisfying.

Did You Know?

  • Willingham was inspired by a story she heard about the family member of a crime victim attending a true crime conference, trying to raise awareness of the case. She was struck by the contrast between attendees, there for entertainment, and grieving family, there trying to get attention on their cases.
  • Willingham wanted to examine the motivation for true-crime podcasters who devote themselves to doing this work.
  • This is Willingham’s second book. Her first, A Flicker in the Dark, has been optioned for television. She’s working on her third, which will be a dark academia psychological thriller.

Amazon | Bookshop.org | Libro.fm | Barnes & Noble

What have you been reading lately?

New 2023 books to read - February reviews

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One Comment

  1. Hello Allison, I enjoyed “I have some questions for you”, but thought it tended to meander a bit too frequently. Maybe that was the point, but not a star book for me
    Want to read The Good Life though. Have heard quite a bit about the project.
    Jo

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