I thought about doing this in chronological order, but where is the fun in that, right? So here are my thoughts on the eight books I read in January in order of how much I liked them – most to least
Two of them I read on my e-reader, two I already (today in fact) sent of for resale. It would have been three, but the third wasn’t in demand at the moment.
We Could Be So Good (Cat Sebastian, 2023)
I loved this so so much. I have read quite a few of previous Cat Sebastian queer historical romance novels and liked them to a varied degree, some more than others. The ones I’ve read so far are all set in the 18th / 19th century and the gay men are either aristocrats who are sort of protected because of their status or scoundrels who are in conflict with the law for many other reasons so they don’t care much about that particular threat of being found out as gay.
In this story set in the newspaper world in NYC in the late 1950s it is different. Homosexuality was still a crime, people were convicted and jailed for it. This story deals with this threat in what I thought was a very realistic way. I had an idea of what it must have been like to have to hide such a big part of your personality away, but this story also made it very palpable to me. I was so afraid this story would break my heart but it didn’t, that’s all I’m going to say. I loved both main characters and could relate to different parts of both to some degree and to see them fall in love and be in love was oh utterly adorable.
One tiny objection is that especially Andy’s friends all seemed too good to be true. And I would have liked to see a bit more of the editorial positions of the Chronicle, because it was always implied that it was a liberal etc newspaper, but I didn’t necessarily see proof of that. So I don’t know. And I don’t care, because Nick and Andy were just the sweetest.
Birds of California (Katie Cuogno, 2022)
That was the first book I read and what a lovely start for the year. This story had the right mix of emotional and funny for me. I liked Fiona more than Sam, I have to say. Sam sometimes could be a bit of a whiney baby. Yes, he had problems, but a lot of them were self-inflicted. Fiona had been through a rough patch and I liked that it wasn’t sugar-coated. And I admired how she dealt with it and took care of her family and all that. I early on had an idea of why Fiona went off the rails back then and I was correct. Go me!
The Last Thing He Told Me (Laura Dave, 2021)
This story kept me quite hooked during the week I read it. It had just the right amount of mystery and intrigue, wondering whom to trust, twist and turns, a likeable main character and a lot of interesting and unique characters around her. Some could have been a bit more fleshed out in my opinion, but that’s a minor detail. I found it fascinating to consider how much or how little we actually know about the people in our lives. Because, how well do we know them, really? Would I have loved a different ending? Yes, I would have, but I get why it ended the way it did and I was fine with that.
Someone Else’s Love Story (Joshilyn Jackson, 2013)
First of all: I would have liked a bit of warning that this story deals with rape / non-consensual sex. It’s not graphic or anything, but no blurb I’ve seen even hinted at it and I think I might have liked known about it going in. This one is a bit hard for me to rate. I thought it was a unique set of characters and plot and I was captivated by the two different lives, whose path accidentally met at the Circle K mart. The story was wonderfully written and all the characters were fleshed out well enough for me. It was a bit darker than I expected (rape etc.) and I was okay with that as well. I loved that the story about the robber showed that most of us are just trying to do the best with the cards we’re dealt with. There were some great twists and turns that definitely surprised me.
Having said all that, I really didn’t feel onboard with the last development / end of the story. Not primarily because I wanted it to have a different (happy-)end, but because at no point in the story I saw or felt that connection, which – to me all of a sudden – bloomed into a love story. No way! Sorry, I just didn’t buy it. Also the more I see it mentioned on other reviews now after I’ve finished it, I also feel like the way this sudden love comes up also somehow puts the blame for the rape on the woman (don’t want to give away spoilers, why I think that). But it makes me feel even more uncomfortable with the last bit of the book.
While Justice Sleeps (Stacey Abrams, 2021)
This was a classic legal / political thriller, which had been on my list for a long time. I admit one of the main draw for me to read this was that the writer Stacey Abrams is a high profile politician herself. And I like the story and the characters fine. But not more than that to be honest. All in all the writing often felt a bit impersonal / stilted and the plot got a bit confusing from time to time. So I don’t know if I’ll read the 2nd book with Avery Keene anytime soon.
Maame (Jessica George, 2023)
I admit I struggled with this one. Partly maybe because it hit too close to home in some aspects. But mostly because I couldn’t really relate to the main character for some reason. I thought the way her work situation resolved kind of awkward. And I really disliked that so much of the book to me read like a not well written psychological self-help book. I’ve read my share of those and it’s fine when that’s the purpose of the book, but those thoughts and advice uttered here felt weird. To me at least.
All Adults Here (Emma Straub, 2020)
I had put off reading this one for a long time, because I was afraid this story about how parental decisions influence childrens’ lives might hit too close to home. In the end it was fine, as the way the main character, the 69 years old widow Astrid had parented her children was different from what I experienced with my mum. The book is slow and there isn’t all that much happening or at least it feels like that. We get to know Astrid and her children and their families, all functioning (or not) in various degrees. I was rather indifferent about most of the characters, which doesn’t make for a very captivating read. The more I think about it the more I’m disappointed that all the plots sort of just meander and in the end peter out.
Things You Save in a Fire (Katherine Center, 2019)
I was so disappointed by this one. Once again I think a warning that rape (not in a graphic way) plays a part in the backstory would have been good. Not for me, I didn’t mind, but other readers might. There was so much I didn’t like in this regardless from that. The hazing? Tradition or not, such a no-go for me. I never really warmed to Cassie to be honest, didn’t buy her head over heels in love with the rookie either. The whole stalker / lie / addiction plot among the fire crew was too much of a cliche in my eyes. I’m glad I cancelled my paperback order when it couldn’t be delivered for months and went with the cheaper ebook instead. I enjoyed a few of Center’s books I’ve read before, so this was an extraordinary bummer for me.