And we are back! Happy New Year, friends. December was a great month of reading. Eight books, a nice little range of genres. A few good thrillers (I am absolutely loving everything Stacy Willingham writes… one of them got an A+!), two National Book Award finalists, a snarky audiobook, and more. I had a lot of time to read over the break which was a treat. As always I would love to hear what you are reading! Give me your recommendations for what to read next in the comments section. And of course don’t forget about The Library where you can filter and sort by genre and rank!
Everything I Read in December 2022
Aesthetica, by Allie Rowbottom
I ordered this book after reading this piece in the New York Times and wound up finishing the book in just a day. It’s haunting, to say the least. Anna is a former influencer who started at 19… moving to LA to become an Instagram model. Now she is 35 years old, working for Sephora (they just say “the black and white store”) and having one big surgery (called Aesthetica) to reverse all the plastic surgery she had when she was young. This is a major surgery, she is essentially risking her life to return to her former self.
Alternating between her 19 year old self in 2017 and her 35 year old self in the future, we visit Anna’s past trauma and her relationship with her former manager/boss Jake. We see her slippery slope of plastic surgery and changing herself to fit a certain aesthetic (the book opens with her getting a bikini wax). We meet her mother and examine that relationship (these parts were especially heartbreaking). The book is very dark and moving (and fortunately completely, drastically different from my own “influencer” experience). I couldn’t put it down. It was unsettling and a train wreck at some parts, but ultimately very good.
Stone Cold Fox, by Rachel Koller Croft (Out 2/14)
This book is a wild ride. It is not out til February (Valentine’s Day, ha!) but well worth the pre-order. It’s one of those up all night thrillers you won’t be able to put down! It has everything I love in a domestic thriller. A conniving and gold digging con-artist. Old money. Scandal! It is perfect for fans of Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen, Julie Clarke, or Liv Constantine. Bea has a traumatic past: being carted around the country by her scammer mother. They never stay in one place too long; she doesn’t even know her real name (or her mother’s real name for that matter!). But Bea is smart and beautiful, has learned the art of swindling men from her mother.
Now, years later, she is determined to marry rich. Not just rich… wealthy, old money. When she sets her eyes on Collin Case (the heir to a giant family company, I thought of Johnson & Johnson), she knows that he is the one. Collin is smitten, but she encounters resistance from his family. Her biggest opponent is his childhood best friend (who is also in love with Collin): Gale Wallace Leicester. Gale quickly proves herself a worthy opponent; smarter and more wily than Bea had expected. Bea has to decide what she really wants and how far she is willing to go to get (and keep) it! Order on Bookshop.com or Amazon // Overall Score: A
The Birdcatcher, by Gayl Jones
I’m going to preface my review by saying that maybe I am just too lowbrow to enjoy this work of literature. It is beautifully written and a National Book Award finalist (amongst other accolades) but it was not my cup of tea. So it gets an A+ for the writing, but a B- for (personal!) enjoyability. So take this review for what it is… the review of someone who loves great writing but values plot over writing. This was just a little too literary for me.
The book takes place primarily on the island of Ibiza. Amanda is a writer (with a past of her own). Her best friend Catherine is a talented sculptor, but Catherine can’t stop trying to kill her husband. Because of this, she is repeatedly institutionalized. Meanwhile, her husband will never leave her! There’s an interesting cast of characters… all mostly artists and writers. There are Amanda’s different lovers (including a Black man whose entire lower body has turned white), a (potentially murderous) painter called Gillette (like the razor), and more. It’s a weird little book but the writing is incredible. While it wasn’t my favorite, I’m still very glad I read it. Order on Bookshop.com or Amazon // Overall Score: B+
A Flicker in the Dark, by Stacy Willingham
This book had come so highly recommended by so many of you — I am so glad that I finally read it, as I could not put it down! Chloe Davis is 32 years old and a psychologist living in Baton Rouge. She owns her own cute home and is planning her wedding with her dreamy husband. But Chloe has a past. Twenty years ago, her father pled guilty to brutally murdering six teenage girls in her home town. When two local girls go missing all these years later, Chloe begins to worry that it’s all happening again and that a copycat killer is on the loose.
She begins to spiral (and thanks to her own substance abuse issues can’t always tell if she is paranoid and delusional or on the verge of helping to solve a series of murders). This is unputdownable! Once I started, I just wanted to stay up all night reading. If you love a good thriller as much as I do, you’re going to want to read this one. Order on Bookshop.com or Amazon // Overall Score: A
All These Dangerous Things, by Stacy Willingham (Out 1/10)
Okay do I have a new favorite author? Potentially! I had to read this after loving A Flicker in the Dark so much. And you know what? This was even better. But be forewarned, there are trigger warnings for postpartum depression and child abuse. Exactly a year ago, Isabelle Drake’s life drastically changed when her 18 month old son Mason was taken from his crib in the middle of the night as her and her husband slept. Since then, Isabelle has dedicated her life to finding her son. But also: she literally cannot sleep. Besides the occasional catnap or temporary blackout, Isabelle hasn’t slept in a year. The loss of her son and lack of sleep has caused her to appear manic and paranoid at times (ultimately causing the demise of her marriage) but she is relentless… she’ll do anything to find Mason.
After speaking at a conference, she meets a true crime podcaster on her flight home. When she learns that his podcast has actually helped to solve cases, she agrees to go on. But as Waylon (podcaster) asks more and more questions (especially about Isabel’s past), she becomes uncomfortable, starting to question herself. This book has it all. So many great twists and turns, an unreliable narrator, and other things I can’t tell you about. I absolutely loved it. A++++! Order on Bookshop.com or Amazon // Overall Score: A+
Shit, Actually, by Lindy West
Okay, I mostly loved this book but admittedly, found myself a little irritated at it at some points. I think that the author’s sense of humor (relentlessly snarky) may just not be for me. I listened to it via audiobook and her tone was… a lot! And I feel like if I had just read it as a paper book, I would have enjoyed it more. I liked the book but found the author’s tone to be condescending! But, that might not come through so much, just reading it in print I think if I read it myself (vs listening to the author), it would seem more silly than snarky.
That critique aside, I netted out positive overall and found it very funny most of the time. She systematically (and smartly) takes down all of our favorite films. Love, Actually. The Lion King. Harry Potter. Forrest Gum. The Notebook. Twilight. Garden State. Nothing is safe. I particularly enjoyed her thoughts on American Pie, (wow that really was a terrible movie!). I did notice that she didn’t go after Nancy Meyers and for that, I’m thankful. Also, I found myself a little burnt out by the book by the end but ultimately enjoyed it. It is nostalgic and made me rewatch The Fugitive! Not the most convincing of reviews, but an honest one? Order on Bookshop.com or Amazon // Overall Score: B+
Tell Me How to Be, by Neel Patel
This is a very good book. I think it would be a great movie. The story is equal parts heartwarming, funny, and sad. It’s a family story, a coming of age story, a coming out story. It’s about identity, both in a culture and sexuality sort of sense. The book alternates between the perspective of mother and son, a year after the father’s death. Renu Amin has had a charmed life – married to a wealthy doctor who adored her. A year after his death she finds herself a bit lost. binge watching soap operas and pining for an old love. Meanwhile, her son Akash is struggling. He drinks too much, he’s broke, he’s gay — but afraid to come out to his family for fear of losing their love.
Now, they are all back in the family house (with Akash’s brother Bijal) which has been sold as Renu is picking up and moving back to be with her family in London. As they pack up the house, secrets come out and resentments brew. Akash compares himself constantly to his golden, seemingly perfect older brother. Renu fantasizes about what her life could have been like if she’d married her first love. Akash resorts to destructive behavior. I won’t tell you how it ends but I loved this book and found myself in tears at the end. Order at Target // Overall Score: A
All This Could Be Different, by Sarah Thankam Matthews
I picked up this book as it was a 2022 National Book Award Finalist and I had seen it highly recommended all over the place and compared to (a queer version of) Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow. The writing is beautiful, at times it is funny, but at other times it is very hard to read and upsetting. It starts as a love story and becomes a story about friendship and community.
Our protagonist, Sneha, graduates college into the Obama era recession. She is queer, Indian, and holding a lot of family secrets. Sneha manages to get an entry-level consulting job where she is earning enough money to send money back to her family. She makes a new friend Tig via a dating app. She dates… eventually meeting and falling for a beautiful dancer called Marina. All the while, despite desperately craving closeness she keeps everyone at arms length… and her family life separate from her personal life (even going so far to tell Marina that her very much alive parents are dead). When things go belly up (her boss stops paying her, her friends are laid off, she must move out of her apartment), the book grows tender as Sneha and her friend group become the glue that holds each other together.
This book is really sad at times (I found the last few pages particularly heartbreaking) but it’s extremely touching. My biggest takeaway from it is that no matter how hard things get, they’ll always be okay if you have your friends and people to lean on.Order on Bookshop.com or Amazon // Overall Score: A-