What I Read in January 2023

It’s weird because the backend of 2022 had a few flops in the reading department for me, so I was skeptical about starting new books this month. But January has been gooooood reading, my friends! Ooh. I did a re-read for the second time in six months–something before now I’ve never done!

I didn’t make any 2023 reading resolutions this year, but I would love to incorporate some more re-reads if I can manage it.

As usual, any purchases made through the links in this post will go to support my bookstore, Twice Told Tales, in McPherson KS.

How to Sell a Haunted House by Grady Hendrix
Order a hardcover copy here (or stop in and pick up a copy at Twice Told Tales)
Download the audiobook version here.

This book… was so fun. And scary! And un-put-down-able! I’ve been telling everyone that it has Big Gremlins Energy–that is to say that it feels very 80’s (though it takes place in present day) and campy and funny? But also I feel like it explores family dynamics and secrets and generational trauma in a deeply thoughtful way. I enjoyed this book so much and I can’t wait to read more Grady Hendrix!

Weyward by Emilia Hart (published in March)
Pre-Order the hardcover copy here.
Pre-Order the audiobook here.

This book is perfect for anyone who really loves family stories (me), multiple timelines and narrators (me), and witches? Or maybe not witches? What is a witch anyway? A woman that isn’t following the rules.

In this story we learn about Kate from 2019, Altha from 1619, and Violet from 1942–all women born from the Weyward line and all women who need to dig deep to find their own personal brand of magic. It’s not a spoiler to let you know that they find it and when it shows up… it’s big and it changes everything.

The Golden Spoon by Jessa Maxwell (published in March)
Pre-Order the Hardcover book here.
Pre-Order the audiobook here.

Okay, okay, okay. So this is like… if Agatha Christie was the producer on The Great British Bake Off. Which is to say I loved it. I love a locked-room mystery trope–that is when all the characters are trapped in one place and you need to find out whodunnit.

Five contestants arrive at a big fancy Vermont estate to participate in the most famous baking competition TV show in American history! Here’s the thing, though. We find out on page one (more or less) that someone ends up dead at some point during Bake Week. As the reader, we’re spending the entirety of the book trying to figure out who died and who did it! It’s a sharp and suspenseful thriller for mystery buffs and bakers alike. This book is filled with twists and turns that will keep you reading late into the night until you turn the very last page of this incredible debut.

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston
Buy the paperback copy here (or at Twice Told Tales)
Download the audiobook here.

I read One Last Stop for the first time in the summer of 2021 and I loooooved it! I was so excited when my book club decided to read it for our February discussion.

After reading a couple books that were a little dark and mysterious, it was such a delight to dive into the cheerful, fun world that Casey McQuiston has created in this story. On the surface it’s a love story and a steamy romance with a surprising time-travel element? But it’s deeply rooted in reality. What I love the very most about this book is the way that it celebrates and dives deep into Queer friendship and found family. I’m telling you–I’m a sucker for a family story!!
There’s also a ton of music referenced in this book and I went ahead and made a Spotify playlist about it. Check it out!

What I Read In December 2022

Yeah, I did skip November. That’s cuz I didn’t read anything. I was looking at my reading stats on my StoryGraph, and there were 5 months this year where I read either nothing or almost nothing. And guess what–THAT’S OKAY! I feel like if there is anything I am called to in this season of my life, it’s to eliminate shame around reading. There’s so much shame around reading! And let me tell you–it’s useless and just feels shitty for no reason. So let’s work on that in 2023, yeah?

Anyway, I actually did happen to read some in December! I’ll tell you about it. Don’t forget that any purchase made through the links in these posts go to benefit our bookstore, Twice Told Tales, in McPherson Kansas!

The Dilemma by Sarah Hawthorn
Download the audiobook here.
Order a paperback copy here.

This book sort of surprised me! It kind of had that story-within-a-story that made The Woman in the Library so extra fun (but it didn’t feel quite as convoluted as that one). So, the story opens in 1958 with Esme dealing with the aftermath in the death of her mother. In the midst of all of the bureaucracy and physical work involved in the death of a loved one, Esme happens upon a letter that she has never seen and leaves her with some questions. I will say this only: in the midst of trying to figure out what this letter means, Esme begins to uncover her mother’s secret life.
I like the way that this book is told from two different perspectives and timelines and also the way that it felt, to me, utterly unpredictable. Every time I thought I had the mysteries solved, I discovered that I was close but no cigar.

Maame by Jessica George
Pre-order the audiobook here.
Pre-order the hardcover book here.

Maame is a story that I really loved. I am a sucker for a coming of age story. This one is about Maddie (Maame is a pet-name for her within her family) who is someone who might be considered a “late bloomer” (if that was a concept that I believed in). She’s been the primary caretaker for her father, who is living with late-stage Parkinson’s disease and it’s sort of disrupted the “natural flow” of young adulthood (which is so different for everyone). When Maddie decides to move out on her own, we get to go along with her on the journey of first-times. From roommates to boyfriends to battling grief and family matters. I feel like Maddie is such a real and honest character and I loved her so much.
This book would be great for anyone who loved, Queenie or Sally Rooney stories.

Now is Not the Time to Panic by Kevin Wilson
Download the audiobook here.
Order the hardcover here.

This was my first Kevin Wilson book and wow did I like it! Now is Not the Time to Panic is a book that will transport you back in time to the summer you were sixteen. I’m not kidding, you can feel the stuffy heat of a car without A/C sitting at a stoplight and you can remember, viscerally, what it was like to just want to make your mark on the world.

In this story Frankie and Zeke meet at the public pool and quickly become fast friends. Suddenly these cryptic posters start going up all over their small town, creating a panic among the community members. What started out as artistic expression between two kids quickly spirals completely out of control.

After a year where I didn’t particularly adore a lot of the books that I read, I really liked all of my December reads! What did you love this year?

What I Read in October 2022

Ya know what? October was a crummy reading month for me. I did not like most of what I read but I’ll tell you about it anyway. Despite not enjoying most of the books I read, I persisted and ended on a five-star read!

As always, any purchases made through links in this post will go to benefit my store, Twice Told Tales.

This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron
Order the paperback copy here.

Okay so when I said that I didn’t like the books I read in October, I forgot that I read This Poison Heart this month. It’s so good!!! I’m not a re-reader. In fact, this is the first book I’ve ever re-read! Yes, that’s true.* There are just too many books that require my attention to go around re-reading things. But I read this one for an online book club that I host and everyone voted for it. And hey! Re-reading is fun! Since I knew how it ends, I got to be pay closer attention this time around. It’s almost like when you watch The 6th Sense for the second time. You know what I mean?

Anyway, Bri is a teenager with some lowkey weird magical powers. Plants are drawn to her and sometimes she can even control them a little bit. She inherits a house in a small town which will solve her parents pressing money problems–so they decide to move there for the summer and see what they think. When she’s there, Bri gets in touch and learns to harness her powers with a little more precision and a lot less fear as time goes on. But wait–it looks like some people are willing to kill to get to what she has. DUN DUN DUN.

Anyway, I don’t want to give too much away but I will say that when we were able to really start our book club discussion, my friend David just leaned in and said, “Okay…. WHAT THE FUCK!” And I feel like that really encompasses the ending of this book. It’s a good one. If you decide to read this one, make sure you have the second book in the series on deck.

*edited to add: No, that’s not true. I’ve also re-read Crime and Punishment. Which is so damn good.

Signal Fires by Dani Shapiro
Order the hardcover copy here.
Download the audiobook here.

Hmmmm did not like.

This book had all the ingredients to build a story that I would love:
Family stories, timeline jumping, a large cast of characters that all come together in the end.
But sheesh. I just did not get into this one. Which isn’t something I say very often–if I’m not getting into a book, then I’ll just DNF but I kept feeling like it was just about to come together. And then it finally did–when there was 45 min left in the book. Eventually I began to understand and like these characters but it was far too close to the end before that happened. Also I’m not even sure this book had a climax.

It was like looking at a plate of ingredients as opposed to eating a delicious dish.

Jackal by Erin E. Adams
Order the book here.
Download the audiobook here.

It’s October. I wanted to read something spooky!!

The premise of this book is so good: Girls continue to be “lost” in the woods outside of town. Who or what is taking them? There was so much potential here.

This was not for me. Horror isn’t my typical reading genre–let’s get that out of the way right off the bat. I’ve found that watching horror movies makes me so nervous, scared, and jumpy! But every horror novel I’ve ever read has just left me feeling confused and wondering, “Wait is this supposed to be a scary part?”
Also in this book in particular I felt frustrated about certain things. Like, in the last 25% of the book the main character mentions a skill that she has that will be profoundly useful in defeating the villain–but this was never mentioned before now. Or one character will be described as, say, full of unyielding energy and then a few lines later they’re so exhausted they can barely move. These little things just kept me feeling frustrated as a reader and unable to get sucked in like I wanted to be. It just felt incomplete.

Such Sharp Teeth: A Werewolf Novel by Rachel Harrison
Order the book here.
Download the audiobook here.

Okay now we’re talking! This book really did it for me!

Such Sharp Teeth is a story about a woman who was attacked by a werewolf and, surprise surprise, becomes one herself. It’s got some comedic elements and romantic elements to it to keep it feeling like it’s taking itself too seriously. This book has an incredible sister relationship and even a romantic relationship though that’s really not the main focus of the book. At the heart of it, it’s kind of a metaphor for the way that hurt people hurt people and we can disrupt that cycle or keep it going. I really, really enjoyed it and will probably seek out other books by Rachel Harrison.

What I Read in September 2022

I got back in my reading groove after taking off some of the summer! And the books I read this month were so good that it made it hard to follow. In addition to the three books I read in September, I marked three others as “did not finish” on my StoryGraph profile.

I’ve gotten really good at allowing myself to not finish a book just because I started it. I can like a book, even, and not finish it. If it’s not a completely engrossing book for me, I’m not gonna dedicate any of my time to it these days. I have too much to read for work that I can’t afford to read a book I’m not absolutely, head-over-heels thrilled about. So here’s a list of three books that fit that description. Don’t forget that all purchases made through this site go to benefit my bookstore–Twice Told Tales in McPherson KS.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
Order the hardcover copy here.
Download the audiobook here.

For some reason, I thought that because this book centers around video game developers, it would not be for me, so I put off reading it. Don’t be like me! If anything about this book (even just the gorgeous cover art) appeals to you, pick it up and read it.
Sam and Sadie met when they were children in 1993 and immediately bonded over gaming. Six years later, they’ve teamed up to start making their own. Over the years, we celebrate their joys, mourn their tragedies, commiserate in their frustrations, and fall in and out of love over and over again in different ways. I’m afraid I’m sugar coating it or… generalizing it. And I guess I am because how do you pinpoint the specific way that Zevin is able to draw you so closely into the humanity of a character? Ugh. I related to most of these characters as if they were me, myself.
This is an epic, sweeping novel that spans generations. It explores all the different ways that our longest relationships evolve and morph over time. It is, at its heart, a love letter to life itself if I may be so pretentious. This will go down as one of my favorite books of all time–I already know it.

The Family Outing: A Memoir by Jessi Hempel
Order the hardcover here.
Download the audiobook here.

People who analyze reading patterns don’t have to look too hard to see that I love a book about family–particularly one that spans decades and navigates transition. I think families are fascinating. They’re my favorite. Enter: a family memoir.

This is a book about Jessi Hempel’s family. Everyone has a secret they’re keeping to themselves and as/ after the family seems to implode–they all start telling them and living honestly. Jessi comes out as gay. Her father comes out as gay. Her brother comes out as trans. Her sister comes out as bisexual. And her mother comes out as someone who had some intimate encounters with someone who turned out to be a serial killer; a secret that ate away at her and affected her and her children in serious ways that no one recognized for quite some time. Now, these aren’t spoilers. All this information can be found on the jacket copy. But it’s the way that everyone managed to not only navigate all of this together (and sometimes not together) but also allowed their stories to be told from a perspective that was not their own (save for Jessi) that I admired so much.

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver
Order the hardcover copy here (or buy a copy in-store from us after it releases on Oct 18).
Download the audiobook here.

Okay but this is the book that I can’t shut tf up about. I’m shouting it from the rooftops every chance I get.

This book touched me. I knew that I would enjoy it because it’s Barbara Kingsolver and the way that she writes gives me goose bumps–but I didn’t expect this. I didn’t expect it to fully wreck me and teach me and light a fire inside of me. This book is dark and long but it is a fully compelling and ultimately hopeful critique of systemic poverty and pain pills. I can’t believe how quickly I burned through huge swaths of this book.

We are cheering for Demon from the very first page. We get to know him so deeply, so intimately to the point where we understand every single move he makes–even when they’re the wrong moves we feel like we couldn’t imagine doing anything different. 
This book is sad. It’s deeply sad but it also has some very funny parts. Demon is so darn witty.  It’s going down as one of the greatest books I’ve ever read. 

I was about 1/2 way through when I realized that this book was a retelling of David Copperfield. Is it obvious I haven’t read the source material? Anyway, what I do know about David Copperfield was that it was an impassioned work of social activism at its time. And that is very much the same for Demon Copperhead. It’s just about as long, too. It’s 560 pages–which ain’t nothin’! But I found it absolutely worth it. There is something in which to delight or despair, but deeply feel, on each and every page.

What have you read and loved lately?

What I Read in July and August 2022

I find it hilarious that someone left a comment on my last post that said something like “Wow! You read a lot.” Because it was immediately followed up with reading almost nothing in July (I finished the tail end of Our Missing Hearts). And then reading very little in August.

For my job, I’m required-ish to read books ahead of time and nominate them for the Indie Next List. And I’m supposed to do 2 books a month. So that’s what I did here. The bare minimum. I have good news and bad news.

The Good News: You’re going to love these books. (I nominated them all.)
The Bad News: They don’t come out until October and November.

Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng
Pre-Order the hardcover copy here.
Pre-Order the audiobook here.

A boy named Bird lives in our not-too-distant future (alternatively, could be present day on an adjacent timeline) where America has come out of a devastating crisis, only surviving by the skin of her teeth. The world left behind is on-edge and ready to ensure dominance again by instituting harsh and racist policies in order to keep “True Americans” safe. 
Bird doesn’t care about all that–he just wants to know where his mother disappeared to and if she’s really the dangerous radical activist that everyone says she is. 
Our Missing Hearts is a soul-stirring novel about what wakes us up and how hard many of us will cling to our sleep and forces us to confront the way that the personal is political.

One thing that I found so interesting about this book is that it’s different-ish? than what I would have expected from Celeste Ng. But then when I think about it… it’s not actually all that different. I mean she thrives in suburban fiction and Little Fires Everywhere certainly had some political subtext. This one is just a touch more overt than I’ve come to expect from her. Don’t get me wrong–I LIKED IT A LOT. Our Missing Hearts is going to be an incredible choice for book clubs everywhere–there is so much conversation to be had!

The Banned Bookshop of Maggie Banks by Shauna Robinson
Preorder the paperback copy here.
Preorder the audiobook here.

I loved this book! Think about the things you love about Emily Henry (complex characters, unpredictable narratives, the ability to turn a trope on its head). Shauna Robinson does all of those things 10 times better! 

Maggie shows up in a small town to help out at her best friend’s bookstore while she’s on maternity leave. When the town Scrooge makes an executive decision, affecting the store’s primary money-maker, sales start to drop. Maggie has to think fast and use all her charm and maybe some illegal means to save the bookshop (and bring the town together for a common cause!). 

I love that in this “romance” book, the relationship between the main character and her beau isn’t the primary focus of the story. Instead, we get to see her fall in love with this town, create a deeper connection with her best friend, and learn to trust herself. 
This is hands down THE BEST romance book I have read in 2022. 

The Islands by Dionne Irving
Pre-Order the paperback copy here.

This is an incredible collection of short stories that I would recommend to anyone who enjoyed books like, Her Body and Other Parties or Behold the Dreamers–in fact, it might be fair to describe this collection as a lovely mash-up of the two.

Personally, I’m finding it challenging to surmise a collection of stories, so I’ll share what her publisher has to say about this book. It’s a collection of “powerful stories that explore the legacy of colonialism, and issues of race, immigration, sexual discrimination, and class in the lives of Jamaican women across London, Panama, France, Jamaica, Florida and more… Restless, displaced, and disconnected, these characters try to ground themselves–to grow where they find themselves planted–in a world in which the tension between what’s said and unsaid can bend the soul.”

On top of being an incredible author (she also wrote a historical fiction novel about the Dionne Quintuplets entitled Quint which was a hit at our shop last year), Dionne Irving is a delightful woman. I had the pleasure of meeting her recently and we’re in talks to host her for an upcoming author event!