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Mini-Reviews of Recent Reads – November 2023

Book reviews of Shark Heart, How to Kill Men and Get Away with It, The Friend Zone, The Berry Pickers, Wellness, #CrimeTime, People Collide, and The Start of Something Wonderful.

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November ended up being an odd reading month, mostly because I read three books in the same, very specific genre that I’m calling “experimental literary fiction about marriage.”

This wasn’t on purpose, and reading these books back-to-back didn’t serve me well–or the books themselves. Each of them jumped back and forth in time, and I got many of the backstories mixed up.

I’m usually more conscious about having a good mix of genres and types of books, but it didn’t work out that way this month.

Despite my poor planning and a few shortcomings in some of the books, there were some definite winners. Here’s what I read:

Print and E-Books

Shark Heart by Emily Habeck

Shark Heart

Author: Emily Habeck
Source: Book of the Month Club
Publish Date: 2023
Genres: Literary Fiction, Fantasy

Soon after Lewis and Wren are married, they get the devastating news: Lewis is slowly transforming into a great white shark. This is the absurd premise of a surprisingly lovely book about marriage, memories, grief, and finding meaning when life throws curveballs. We first see Lewis’s transition from human to shark, and among this, slowly gather bits of each of their pasts and how they came together. Wren’s story comes into sharper focus as the story shifts to her mother, pregnant with Wren as a teen by an abusive boyfriend.

This book sounds like an experiment that couldn’t possibly work, but it does–and I marvel at the creativity that brought the author to it. It’s shockingly easy to suspend disbelief here; the transition to other creatures is a fact of this world, and the important thing is pondering the repercussions, the love in the face of loss, and the moving on. You’ll think about this one long after you’ve finished reading it.

How to Kill Men and Get Away with It by Katy Brent

How to Kill Men and Get Away with It

Author: Katy Brent
Publish Date: June 13, 2023
Genres: Mysteries & Thrillers

Kitty Collins is a rich influencer who has a gruesome side hobby. It all started with a guy at the nightclub who wouldn’t leave her alone. Then the killing became an addiction. Soon, she’s seeking out stories of women and their attackers–and going after the attackers.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but with the cartoonish cover and funny title, I definitely wasn’t anticipating what I got. This is a dark and gruesome book–some of the scenes are pretty disturbing. Kitty somehow managed to keep getting away with murder, despite her general sloppiness (how did she keep cleaning up the blood and not leaving a trace??) and the digital trails that would lead police directly to her. I guess it’s assumed that a rich, beautiful, white woman wouldn’t be a suspect. Despite the plot holes, I was hooked enough to keep reading. Just know that this is not a read-alike for the much lighter humorous thrillers Finlay Donovan or Killers of a Certain Age.

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The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez

The Friend Zone

Author: Abby Jimenez
Narrators: Teddy Hamilton & Erin Mallon
Source: Library (Hoopla)
Publish Date: 2019
Genres: Romance

Kristen loves her independence, and she’s not sure how she feels about her boyfriend moving in with her. He’s deployed most of the year and they’ve never spent significant time together. But he’s smart, handsome, accomplished, and–most importantly–doesn’t want children. She would love them, but her lifelong struggles with her period have finally brought her to the point of surgery that would make having kids impossible.

Her doubts about her relationship are amplified when she meets Josh. They get each other, and their chemistry is off the charts. But: he wants kids–and lots of them. As they grow closer, Kristen has to decide what she wants, and if she can accept being unable to give him a family.

Abby Jimenez has quickly become one of my favorite romance authors. She writes characters who try to navigate potential relationships while struggling with real issues, and they always have great chemistry. However, there were things here that just didn’t work.

First, the good: that chemistry! Jimenez always delivers here. She’s also great about weaving in character struggles that are often not addressed in romance novels (e.g., periods, anxiety, etc.).

The bad: she unfortunately employs the “not like other girls” cliche for Kristin–and Josh leans into it heavily, making them both less likable. Kristin was exceptionally frustrating in her inability to communicate. Finally, the ending was a disappointment, and I could see it especially bothering readers who might also be facing infertility.

Jimenez’s talent shows here, but I think she’s grown a lot as an author since this first novel.

The Berry Pickers by Amanda Peters

The Berry Pickers

Author: Amanda Peters
Narrators: Aaliya Warbus & Jordan Waunch
Source: Libro.fm ALC
Publish Date: October 31, 2023
Genres: Literary Fiction

In the summer of 1962, a Mi’kmaq family arrives in Maine to pick berries. Soon after, four-year-old Ruthie disappears, last seen by her six-year-old brother, Joe. Ruthie–now Norma–spends decades being raised by a helicopter mother and a distant father, always haunted by nightmares and bothered that she looks a little different. Joe remains tormented by guilt and the loss of his sister. As the family continues to search for her, Norma slowly picks apart the inconsistencies in her life, searching for the truth about herself.

Told over decades, alternately by Joe and Norma, The Berry Pickers is a riveting story of trauma, grief, and struggle, as well as privilege and prejudice, and how all of these things are interwoven. It’s an incredible debut, and I don’t think you can go wrong with either the print or audio versions.

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2023 Books to Read: November Reviews

#CrimeTime by Jeneva Rose and Drew Pyne


Author: Jeneva Rose & Drew Pyne
Narrators: Abelardo Campuzano, Jennifer Damiano, Phil Thron, Gary Tiedemann, Peter Berkrot, P.J. Ochlan, Nancy Linari, Chris Andrew Ciulla, Piper Goodeve, Kevin R. Free & Samantha Desz
Source: Libro.fm ALC
Publish Date: December 12, 2023
Genres: Mysteries & Thrillers

This audio original thriller was written with a listening audience in mind. It has a full cast, sound effects, and no narration (the story is told through dialog, which is a little awkward at times). Nonetheless, this is a pretty fun listen. Nadiya writes crime novels and mostly keeps to herself, but that changes when her long-lost half-brother comes to stay with her. Chase is an aspiring Tik Toker, and he sees his chance when there is a burglary in the apartment upstairs. Soon he’s live-streaming the action–including when it all goes south and they end up mixed up with organized crime.

This is a fast-paced, funny adventure for anyone looking for a short and easy listen. A few serious moments balance the goofiness, and this novel provides the setup for possible sequels, with an entertaining team of crime fighters. Fans of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series or the Finlay Donovan series might enjoy this.

Wellness by Nathan Hill


Author: Nathan Hill
Narrators: Ari Fliakos
Source: Libro.fm ALC
Publish Date: September 19, 2023
Genres: Literary Fiction

This is the story of Jack and Elizabeth’s marriage, but it’s not just about their marriage. It’s about how their relationship and their identities shift as they move through life in a manipulative world. Alongside Jack and Elizabeth’s story, author Nathan Hill examines every aspect of this manipulation–in depth. From Elizabeth’s work as a scientist studying placebos (and then selling them), to the online algorithms that create and then reinforce beliefs, to art, to parenting, to health and the ways we try to hack our “wellness,” Hill leaves no stone unturned. He often veers into tangents in this 600+ page tome (19-hour audiobook).

The book could have been shorter, but I was never bored. The cultural examinations kept me engaged, and just as they began to wear thin, he shifted back to his characters and how the things he examined affected them. This meandering book will not be for everyone, but readers up for literary experiments may want to give it a try (I’ve seen many say that audiobook is the way to go–and I agree).

People Collide by Isla McElroy

People Collide

Author: Isle McElroy
Narrators: Daniel Henning & Aida Reluzco
Source: Libro.fm ALC
Publish Date: September 26, 2023
Genres: Literary Fiction, Fantasy

Another experimental book about marriage, identity, and culture, this book follows Eli after he wakes up in the body of his wife, Elizabeth. Elizabeth has disappeared, and Eli embarks on a search for her across Europe and the U.S., while experiencing life in the body of a woman (and she in the body of a man).

This is a fascinating exploration of the body-swapping trope. Not only do they each experience the life, privileges, and challenges of each other’s gender, but they also realize that the swap enables them to shift their entire identities and expectations for their own lives. Past hangups can be left behind; it’s the ultimate new beginning, and they each deal with it in their own ways. And of course, they must decide if they can move forward in their relationship, with each of them in the body of the other.

This did have some shortcomings. The question of why the body swap happened was never really addressed, and the way both characters seemed to accept it so quickly kept nagging at me. Those things aren’t the point of the book, and other readers were more easily able to suspend their disbelief, but they did bother me.

The Start of Something Wonderful by Jessica Redland

The Start of Something Wonderful

Author: Jessica Redland
Narrators: Rebecca Norfolk
Source: Libro.fm ALC
Publish Date: July 17, 2023
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance

After losing her beloved grandfather and her job as a greeting card illustrator, Autumn Laine is at a crossroads. Time with her parents in Paris only causes more confusion, when a former boyfriend–who left her heartbroken–re-enters her life. She decides to head to the Lake District to stay with her lifelong pen pal, Rosie, and hopefully get back some artistic inspiration. The beautiful landscape, the Beatrix Potter inspirations around every corner, and the intriguing man she meets quickly revitalize her.

This is a cozy novel of new beginnings, friendship, and sweet romance. It’s not a Christmas novel, but very much has the feel of a Hallmark movie. The setting is enchanting and I loved the artistic friendship between Autumn and her new love interest. There was one aspect in the progression of their relationship that was a little odd to me, but aside from that, I enjoyed this cozy, easy listen.