January 2020 Novel Ideas – 23 Quick Lit Reviews
It’s time for our monthly round-up. We’ve got over 20 quick lit reviews in January 2020 Novel Ideas. These books span from popular new releases (think Long Bright River and Such a Fun Age) to older books that sparked our interest to upcoming books being released in future months. We guarantee you will find something to add to your nightstand book stack in the list below. You’ll also find a few of our current favorite finds at the bottom of the reviews.*Post contains affiliate links. Purchases made through links will result in a small commission to us at no cost to you.
Wife after Wife by Olivia Hayfield
I literally squealed with joy when I got my advanced copy of Wife after Wife from Berkley and Netgalley. It’s billed as a modern-day account of Henry VIII and his wives. Literally could not be more up my royal-loving alley. In this modernization, Harry is a media mogul and owner of Rose Corp. Obviously I know all about the wives of Henry VIII, but I had no idea that Anne would be a magazine editor or Jane would be recast as a lowly secretary. I gobbled up the details and I can say that it’s been a pure indulgence. It’s been absolutely delicious to see how the ladies go down. Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived. 4 stars
Don’t you feel that some books are just meant to be listened to and not read? That’s how I felt about Daisy Jones & The Six, The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto, Echo, and now Saint X. (Thanks to libro.fm for my advanced audio copy.)
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Saint X. I think I was suspecting a thriller or a mystery – because the story opens with an 18-year-old girl who dies on her tropical vacation with her family. Her then 7-year-old sister, Claire, is our narrator. Now in her 20s after a chance meeting with someone connected to the case, Claire is trying to figure out exactly what happened all those years ago. The story is also peppered with accounts from a few other key people in the case. Each one of these players is a different narrator which just made the entire production feel real. But it doesn’t quite fit into one genre. It’s also a book about the relationship between sisters, even those separated for years. The other part of the story I love is the subtle commentary on race and class woven through-out. 4 stars.
Long Bright River by Liz Moore
Long Bright River is one such read and it’s phenomenal. I was so pleased that I got a chance to read the book early because of Libro.fm.com. I COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN.
The story takes place in Philly’s Kensington neighborhood which is known for having a huge opioid problem. You can’t live in my area and not know about the epidemic spreading through our city. It’s devastating and scary and this book deals with it head-on. The story revolves around 2 sisters. One is a cop, one is an addict – both are being impacted by a string of murders in the area.
This book dealt with many issues around drug-addiction and it handles them without judging. 5 stars.
I read this book after Jackie recommended it in our Philly female writers post. I found Kiley’s take on racism and classism to be subtle in nature even though the book opens with a scene featuring racial profiling. The commentary on everyday racism is what as truly profound in this book. It gave me pause as I considered my own viewpoints or actions, especially because the book takes place in our local community. 4 stars.
I’ve read Emma a few times already, but this time I actually listened to the Audible production narrated by Emma Thompson in anticipation of the upcoming movie adaption. Emma has never been a favorite of mine. In fact, the only version of Emma in book or movie form I’ve liked is Clueless. (sidebar – did anyone ever read the clueless book series? take me back to my adolescence, please.) This time, however, I found that I finally started to understand Emma. I think it might have to do with The Season which I read last month. 3 stars.
What Made Maddy Run by Kate Fagan
What an emotional non-fiction book about Madison’s life, her pressures, and her mental state leading up to her suicide. I remember when Madison’s suicide happened here in Philadelphia. I was 8 months pregnant at the time. It was a tragedy that was all over the news as parents everywhere felt the pain of Madison’s parents. I read this book as part of an upcoming book discussion at a local community center that works on suicide prevention. I learned so much about suicide from this book, which handled the subject with grace and thoughtfulness it deserves. 5 stars.
C.W. Gortner is a hit or miss author for me. I am either enthralled or I find his characters fall flat. For this book, which I was researching in advance of March’s Reading Challenge, it was the latter. I found the story to be focused too much on Marlene’s exploits as a bi-sexual woman. Yes, that’s groundbreaking – but it’s not all that defined her. Which is why she fell flat as a character. I wanted more of her war-time efforts, more of her Hollywood life, more on her relationship with her daughter – just more substance in general. The writing and research were impeccable, as usual, it just didn’t live up to what I thought it could be. 3 stars.
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
I was late in the game to this story, but I wanted to read it as prep for the Reading Challenge. I was enthralled by the heroics of the team. The sheer force of will and strength it takes to get in that boat and win. I thought I would be bored by the minutia of rowing, but I wasn’t. The mechanical part of it, the precision, it just made me appreciate the skill of rowing even more. The Olympic games gave me such a heightened sense of American pride. I was rooting for the team and cheering them on the whole time. 5 stars.
The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian
My MIL has been talking to me about this book for YEARS and I finally decided to bite the bullet and read it. TBH, the premise had me like 😑. Bachelor party gone wrong? Nah… But then I read it and was so engrossed by the story. Sex trafficking? That’s not a thing, right? Wrong. I totally had no idea. Now this book could be a major trigger for some people because there is a lot of rape, but it’s not gratuitous… it’s done to explain how they break these women, how they instill fear… and it’s heartbreaking. The ending had me shocked. I’m still thinking about it weeks later. I guess my MIL was right after all. 3 stars.
The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo
Lombardo’s debut is a tremendous book about the complicated dynamics and hidden secrets of the Sorenson parents and their 4 daughters. The story is told alternately in the present day when Jonah reunites with the daughter that gave him up in 15 years prior, and the past touching on moments in the Sorenson family history that are coming back to haunt them. Each character is deliciously flawed in a way that makes you feel like you’ve known them for years. I love that at the heart of the story, the book is about the many forms of love and how to love well. 5 stars. You can see more books from local authors here.
The Queens of Animation by Nathalia Holt
This nonfiction book sheds light on the talent of Disney’s pioneering female animators and the struggles they faced in a male-dominated field. I loved learning about these incredible women – like Mary Blair who created the art for the “It’s a Small World” ride. I was appalled by the disparate treatment female in the animation field received, but I was also impressed by their gumption. The author does a tremendous job of showing their struggles put also how these women shaped animation as we know it. I was heartened to see just how far they have come. The book ends with Frozen and you could clearly see the studio’s growth. 5 stars.
Getting Schooled by Emma Chase
If you know me, you know I am a terrible traveler. I must get to the airport 2 hrs early. I must check for my ticket every 10 minutes. I must have a contemporary rom-com book that will suck me in, have me laughing, and keep me from concentrating on turbulence. Enter Emma Chase and her book, Getting Schooled. I’m a huge fan of Emma’s because she has not let me down on a plane yet! A fast, funny read, about 2 highschool sweethearts that get a second chance at love. 3 stars.
The Case for Jamie by Brittany Cavallaro
I was big into this series when it first came out, but I found myself stalling as I read this book. After the cliffhanger in the last story, I was expecting to jump in at the height of action. Instead, Jamie and Charlotte weren’t together for the first bit, the mystery was meh, and I just didn’t feel sucked into the story. That being said, there is only one more book in the series, so I’ll be grabbing it for sure. 2 stars.
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon
As a book blogger, I find pride in reading across genres. I have pretty eclectic taste so it’s rare to find a well-known author I haven’t dabbled in. Cut to my conversation with my friend, Dan, who was SHOCKED that I hadn’t ever read a Michael Chabon book. He immediately thrust this into my hands and told me to get reading. I can honestly say that I would NEVER have picked this book on my own. A failed Israel leading to the Jewish state being formed in the wilds of Alaska? A Yiddish police force solving murders before their state reverts back to US occupancy? No thanks… but instead… I enjoyed it! It’s grittier than my normal picks, more of a “man’s book” if I had to stereotype it. But I love the subtle details, the little bits of world-building about the area and the faux history. 3 stars.
In Five Years by Rebecca Serle
What a refreshing book about the power of love and friendship. I sat down and read this book in one sitting easily. It is captivating from the first sentence and had me until the last page. Dannie is an ambitious lawyer with a plan. She has her life planned out until she falls asleep and spends one hour in the future. Nothing is familiar- not her house, the ring on her finger or the man by her side. When she wakes, she cannot get the images out of her head. I loved this book. 4 stars
The Beneficiary: Fortune, Misfortune, and the Story of my Father by Janny Scott
This book intrigued me because of the history of the Ardrossan estate. This mainline estate has a vast story and the family story is unlike anything I have read. That being said, I had a hard time with this book. I felt that it meandered and took hours of reading to get to the point. Janny Scott’s father left her a set of notebooks when he died and it took years to find them. However, it was hard for me to follow a story that did not move chronologically. I nearly stopped reading but I’m glad that I finished because it is an interesting story. 2.5 stars
The Most Fun We Ever had by Claire Lombardo
I cannot believe that Claire Lombardo is not a 50 or 60-year-old woman with children of her own. This family drama has such insight into Marilyn and David and their four daughters. Their love story is perfectly imperfect. Each of their children is also completely messed up in their own way. The result is a wonderful story about a family who you will feel like you have known for years. 4 stars
A pick for Reese’s Sunshine Bookclub, I enjoyed this story about Susan Green’s unlikely quest for love. When her mother dies and leaves her home to Susan’s brother, Susan decides to hire a lawyer and get what she thinks is owed to her. Susan also finds out that she is pregnant and she starts to lose control of her meticulously controlled life. Meet Rob, her brother’s best friend and the opposite of everything she has ever thought she liked before. This quirky story is perfect for fans of Eleanor Oliphant. 3.5 stars
Thank you to Netgalley for my copy of this book. The God Game is a crazy ride from beginning to end with non-stop excitement. I had no idea where this story was going AT ALL. I was on my toes until the last page. What do you do when an AI invites you to play a game where the winner gets money, amazing technology, and revenge but to lose means death? This Sci-Fi thriller is heart-pounding fun. This one is perfect for fans of Recursion and Ready Player one 3 stars
I was not prepared for this apocalyptic story that is a commentary on the life we live and mindless workaholics. It was well-written but I did not like the story. This is another book that I did not want to finish but did. I didn’t like the characters or feel empathy toward them. 2.5 stars
I am so happy that I finally read this book. Michelle Obama is a brilliant woman who is so well spoken with such a wonderful story to tell. I listened to this and was so happy to hear the story read by Obama herself. 4 stars
The Magician’s Diary (Glass and Steele #4) by C.J Archer
This series is always fun for me to read when I need a fun break. It is an easy read that is my light and fluffy getaway. This is the fourth book in the series. India and Matt have finally have found the magician they have been searching for but it may not be enough to save Matt. 3 stars
Thank you so much for my copy of this book. This is unlike anything else that I have read. This gothic mystery set in Victorian London. With a strong female detective and a bit of supernatural, this is a fun and quirky book that was right up my alley. Birdie Divine is tasked with solving the mystery of a missing child who is not only kept a secret but has strange abilities. Birdie suspects that the child is coveted for these abilities and must explore the underbellies of London society to fulfill her promise of returning the child. With stories woven throughout and the seamless movement between past and present, this story walks the line between fairytale and fiction. Thoroughly enjoyable read. 4 stars
Our Favorite Things
In case you missed our stories, we received some fabulous gifts in the mail. These sweatshirts are warm, comfortable and super stylish!
We are both on a healthy kick and it’s trickled down into our tea. Kirsten has been making Matcha lattes with this matcha powder and macadamia nut milk. Such a yummy combo. Jackie is exploring turmeric tea and a festive tea known as Christmas in Paris.
But the number one thing on my list? This weighted blanket that I got for my son. He is 7 years old and has trouble sleeping. It’s been months of troubleshooting and finally…FINALLY….we are able to get him to bed at a reasonable time. Best $40 I ever spent.