Everything I Read in December 2023.

Everything I Read in December 2023

This was a much more robust month of reading than November. Ten books! I continued (and really enjoyed) my reading of Lisa Jewell’s back catalog. She has written so many great books! It is really interesting to me to watch her journey as an author. If I were to provide my analysis, I would say that her earlier works feel a little bit safer (a lot of them are domestic thrillers in a neighborhood setting where nothing truly horrible happens – think Liane Moriarty books like Big Little Lies, etc). As she’s gotten more confident, she’s gotten a lot darker and takes more risks. Just my take!

This month’s must-reads were the two non-fiction audiobooks (I learned so much from both), The Mystery Guest (loved being reunited with Molly the Maid!), The Only One Left (fav thriller in ages), and She Started It. On the lighter side, Rebecca Serle’s latest book (Expiration Dates) is so worth the preorder!!!

What did you read this month? Give me your book recs in the comments!

Everything I Read in December 2023

Thrillers

The Girls in the Garden, by Lisa Jewell.

This was very good, but it was probably my least favorite Lisa Jewell book (so far) but a mediocre Lisa Jewell book is still a worthwhile read! This reads more like a cozy mystery. A woman and her two daughters have just moved into a seemingly wonderful new community. The homes all face a communal garden square, the children run wild, the neighbors are all friends and hang out together, etc. The perfect, safe spot to raise children. Or so Clare (the mother) thought.

We are introduced to several families in the neighborhood. There’s the social worker who neglects her daughter. The mixed-race boy with the unstable older brother. The (seemingly) perfect bohemian couple, homeschooling their children and acting as an open door for everyone in the community. A curmudgeonly old man who’s just had his foot amputated. And then one night (this is actually how the book opens), pre-teen Pip discovers her thirteen year old sister lying unconscious and bloodied in the garden. What happened to her? Who is responsible!? Are any of these people who they say they are? Overall Score: B+ // Order on Amazon or Bookshop.org

The Mystery Guest, by Nita Prose

Molly the maid is back! If you loved The Maid as much as I did, you are in for such a treat. I’d definitely recommend reading The Maid first, though you don’t have to. These books are not really thrillers, more of a cozy mystery. I love them, I really hope that the author continues the series.

Molly is our unlikely heroine: a maid at a five star hotel who has a few social issues but a keen eye for detail that helps her to solve mysteries. I love her as a character! It’s been a few years since the last one, but when a high profile author shows up at the hotel and turns up dead, Molly is in hot water again. We go back and forth between present day and Molly’s childhood (learning about a connection between Molly and the dead author). As Molly fights to solve the case (alongside her old foe, Detective Stark), everyone is in question.

Was it Molly’s workplace nemesis (Cheryl, the lazy maid) or her new protegee (maid in training) Lily? Was it Serena Sharpe, the author’s secretary? Who killed J.D. Grimthorpe… and why? I absolutely loved this, even more than the first book! Overall Score: A+ // Order on Amazon or Bookshop.org

Five Bad Deeds, by Caz Frear

This was a good one. I read it in a span of 24 hours. I only gave it an A- as it started slow for me and I found the author’s voice to be a little rambly and flowery (this happens a lot for me with lighter British reads; it isn’t her fault) but I loved the plot. It’s complex and layered with such a good understanding of jealousy, rivalries, lingering resentments, toxic friendships, relationships, etc.

The book opens with our protagonist (Ellen) in jail. And then it rewinds a few months earlier where we get to know her. Someone who prides herself on being a good person. Renovating her beautiful countryside home. A mom to a teenage daughter and twin toddler boys. Relatively happy. Until she gets a threatening note in the mail declaring that people need to learn their are consequences. While Ellen is no angel, she has no idea why someone would send her this note. A mystery ensues and we get to know those around her: her sister, her two closest friends, her husband, her daughter. Who would do this? And why!? As Ellen’s reputation is seemingly systematically destroyed over a few months, she races to figure out who is doing this to her. Overall Score: A- // Order on Amazon or Bookshop.org

On a Quiet Street, by Seraphina Nova Glass

This was a very fun read. Without giving things away; it has so many good thriller tropes, all rolled into one book. Paige, Cora, and Georgia all live in the beautiful gated community of Brighton Hills on the Oregon Coast. But they all have secrets. Paige is trying to track down her son’s killer (spying on all of her neighbors, searching for some sort of proof that he was murdered). Cora is convinced that her husband is cheating on her; she just needs to catch him. And Georgia is a bit of a recluse. She won’t leave her house and acts stranger by the day. Each of these women have secrets and when their storylines intersect it makes for quite a page turner. I couldn’t put this down; I highly recommend it! Overall Score: A- // Order on Amazon or Bookshop.org

The Only One Left, by Riley Sager

This is the first A+ thriller I have read in a bit; I really loved it! I generally really love Riley Sager’s books and I think that this is my favorite of his so far. Kit McDeere is down on her luck; having just had a major career setback. As a home-health aide, she’s given a “last chance” sort of job assignment, meaning she either takes the job or won’t get another one. The thing is, she is assigned to care for an assumed killer. Years ago, when she was just seventeen; Lenora Hope’s whole family was murdered and everyone assumes Lenora was the killer. The police were never able to prove it but Lenora is notorious. She’s never spoken about it and she doesn’t leave her house.

Now Lenora is in her seventies and confined to a wheelchair after a series of strokes. She can only communicate by tapping out sentences on an old typewriter. One night, Lenora offers to tell Kit everything. I will say no more but this book is extremely twisty and had my mind in overdrive the whole time. And the ending was extremely satisfying. I haven’t liked a thriller so much in a while, I highly recommend this! Overall Score: A+ // Order on Amazon or Bookshop.org

She Started It, by Sian Gilbert

This is best described as “delightfully catty” and I absolutely tore through it. I loved it! I have never met four more unlikeable narrators. Seriously, these women were terrible and you really just root for their downfall. Four “friends,” Tanya, Annabel, Esther, and Chloe receive a mysterious invitation to their old classmate Poppy Greer’s bachelorette party. The four of them weren’t exactly pals with Greer: they bullied her in high school. But when they receive an all expenses paid invitation (first class plane ticket included!) to a private island, they can’t help but say yes. These women are awful. They all have their own little secrets but they are total mean girls. When they arrive on the island, Poppy has changed so much: poised, confident, stunningly beautiful.

I won’t say much more but it’s deeply twisty and extremely satisfying. (As someone who was picked on and teased quite a bit in middle and high school I will say that I really, really rooted for Poppy). I couldn’t put it down and loved it so much. This is a fun read, perfect for a mindless Saturday at home or a beach vacation. Overall Score: A // Order on Amazon or Bookshop.org

Literary Fiction

The House We Grew Up In, by Lisa Jewell

It feels strange classifying a Lisa Jewell book as literary fiction but here we go. This one is from 2015 and I wasn’t quite sure where to classify it. This is a complicated story about a complicated family. Growing up, the Bird family had an idyllic existence. Lorelei and Colin are a happily married couple with four beautiful children. Lorelei is a free spirit and a collector; always saving precious mementos and trinkets. The walls of the family are covered in the children’s art; things are rarely thrown away. One Easter, a horrible tragedy occurs, altering the family’s very existence. The family begins to slowly fall apart. We see years pass and none of the members of the family are speaking.

Meanwhile, Lorelei has become a notorious hoarder (to the point where she’s been assigned a social services case worker). When another tragedy occurs, the family is forced to go back to the home and reunite; trying to understand what happened so long ago and how they managed to drift away from each other. This is not a thriller! It is quite dark at times and there is a warning for death by suicide but it’s more of a literary family story than anything. I really enjoyed it. Overall Score: A- // Order on Amazon or Bookshop.org

Non-Fiction

Romney: A Reckoning, by McKay Coppins

This was maybe a surprising choice of books but I have watched Romney go from presidential candidate (and being terrified that he would win) to someone I really respect (and also: Republican party pariah). It was a long time to spend learning about a politician (12.5 hours to be exact – maybe a little too long!), the COVID and Trump parts were triggering and something I kind of hated reliving. It also felt a little bit weird and traitorous listening to the parts about his run against Obama! Still, I really liked it. I feel like I understand him more as a person. I certainly don’t agree with all of his policies and a lot of his actions (though this is a biography not a memoir so it is critical at times) but I think he has a lot of integrity.

It is funny/strange to look back on things. I was raised a die hard Massachusetts liberal, and while my beliefs haven’t changed I think he is a good person and would have made a good president (all things considered). It’s weird how Trump’s presidency has altered my perspective. Overall Score: A // Order on Amazon or Bookshop.org

Hitchcock’s Blondes, by Laurence Leamer

I really loved this and found it to be a great listen on audiobooks. It was doubly great as it a) gave me something to listen to and taught be a lot and b) gave me loads of films I need to watch – despite being a pretty big movie buff, I realized there’s so much I haven’t seen. I just found this book so interesting and would get really excited any time I put it on to listen. It is is not only a biography of Alfred Hitchcock but also the glamorous (always blonde!) actresses that he cast in his films. Somehow in just one book we learn about his life, all of these women’s lives, and of course the films they starred in. Hitchcock was obsessed with “his” blondes but they’ve rarely been at the center of his story.

We get to know June Howard-Tripp, Madeleine Carroll, Ingrid Bergman, Grace Kelly, Janet Leigh, Kim Novak, Eva Marie Saint, and Tippi Hedren. I was utterly fascinated. Especially with the bits about Grace Kelly and Janet Leigh. I will say that I thought he was unfair to Tippi Hedren but I don’t know very much and have only ever listened to her memoir so am probably a bit biased toward her. It is a fun read or listen and I felt like I learned so much (and have so many movies to watch!). Overall Score: A // Order on Amazon or Bookshop.org

Lighter Stuff

Expiration Dates, by Rebecca Serle (Out 3/19/24)

Rebecca Serle is the master of the tearjerker (you know this, if you read In Five Years!!) and this one did not disappoint. I mean it when I say that it is completely worth the pre-order… a treat that will show up at your door in March and tear you away from the rest of the world because you can’t put it down. I devoured it in under 24 hours and could not stop thinking about it upon finishing. It was so beautifully written and fun (except for the parts that made me cry, of course!).

For as long as Daphne Bell has dated, she’s received a slip of paper with name and a time period on it. Two nights, five months, etc. But when she meets Jake, there is just a name. The universe clearly has a plan for her. From a one night stand in New York to three months with Hugo (now her best friend), the paper has never lied. As Jake and Daphne begin their romance, Daphne can’t help but question things. Is this really what is supposed to happen? Jake is seemingly perfect. Supportive, understanding, and kind. Meanwhile, Daphne knows things that could break Jake’s heart.

I don’t want to say any more as I worry I’ll accidentally give a spoiler, so I will just tell you that I love it and I also really loved that it had a few fun twists! Such a great book. Overall Score: A // Order on Amazon or Bookshop.org

Leave a Comment

Leave a Comment

38 Comments

  1. Deb:

    Just finished the second JoJo Moyes in her trilogy with her protagonist Louisa and loved it! Both Me Before You and After You were so much better than I expected! Moyes is a smart, funny writer—very enjoyable and interesting characters!

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  2. Steph:

    Great list! I read some of these too and enjoyed them. I may have to pick up Hitchcock’s Blondes next.

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  3. Jessie:

    I’m about 20% into The Unmaking of June Farrow and I’m hooked so far! Hopefully it holds up for the rest of the book.

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  4. Maureen Hanson:

    I love your reading lists! In December, I read North Woods by Daniel Mason. I fully expected straightforward historical fiction, but it surprised me. Lots of character development revealed in creative ways with a touch of paranormal – I loved it!

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  5. Ali:

    This was the lamest reading month I’ve had in a while because I was visiting family lol but so excited for all the books to read in January!!

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  6. Katie:

    I can’t wait to read The Only One Left, I love the idea of a female serial killer (but am sure there are so many twists, like you said, that all may not be as it seems!).

    I was so disappointed in The Mystery Guest, it didn’t capture the same magic as The Maid for me and just felt cheap somehow.

    I also couldn’t stand Expiration Date. Like most Rebecca Serle books, I find the premise SO INTERESTING, but the outcome feels like a lazy Hallmark version of what could have been. There were also some strange side plots in this one that just seemed so out of left field.

    But not to be so negative…my favorite books of the year were All The Sinners Blead by SA Cosby (I think you’d like this Grace!) that reads just like an episode of Criminal Minds. I also loved Lady Tan’s Circle of Women by Lisa See, and an ARC called Acts of Forgiveness based on the concept that reparations of $175,000 are finally made to every American with slave ancestry, and the impacts it has on people, some surprising.

    Always enjoy these posts, Grace, Happy New Year!

    1.3.24 Reply
    • Aw no! We are usually on the same page with so many books. I get your take on Expiration Dates, it did tie things up so easily but in hindsight maybe I was just in the headspace for something Hallmarky! Off to check out All the Sinners Bleed! I have been meaning to read the new Lisa See as well — it is top of my TBR… soon! (The book on reparations also sounds extremely interesting!)

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      • Katie:

        Yeah I think you’ll like Lady Tan, there was less (but not none!) foot binding content than some of the other books which I consider a win haha.

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  7. Betsy:

    Just finished 100 Years of Lenni and Margot. It was so good! I read the last half slowly bc I didn’t want it to end!

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  8. Karen:

    Omg I literally want to read all of these! They sound fantastic. I loved The Maid and so excited for more Molly!!

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  9. So many great books to add to my list! Excited to revisit the brilliant quirky mind of the Maid and beyond excited for a new Rebecca Serle book.

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  10. Elle:

    Appreciate this take on the Romney book in particular — will have to check it out!

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    • I honestly loved it! Def recommend listening on audio vs. reading the paper version; probably less dry!

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  11. Lauryl:

    I read “The Only One Left” on your reco and really liked it! I thought it took a bit to get the groundwork laid, but then I was hooked. There were lots of clever clues dropped along the way, and I love a book I don’t see the ending to. I saw someone describe the ending as “twist-lash” (vs whiplash) which I do agree with a bit, but it was a fun read! Thank you for the recommendation!

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    • Lauryl:

      Oh and other books I read and liked in December (this was the most I’ve read in a month in FOREVER):
      – Hidden Potential by Adam Grant. This is nonfiction and a great blend of stories and practical tips on how to not miss out on people with huge potential that you just don’t recognize. Relevant to a lot of parts of life, not just work. One of my faves of his.
      – Echo of Old Books by Barbara Davis. I really liked this book and it stuck with me for awhile. There are technically two stories within the story so it’s a layered and multi-timeline book. There’s a tiny splash of supernatural, but in a way that helps heighten emotions vs be distracting or feel silly. About a woman who loves books and finds two books with interesting stories she wants to get to the bottom of.
      – Generations: The Real Differences between Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, Boomers and Silents and What It Means – I really enjoyed listening to this nonfiction book! It presents each generation from Silents —> Alpha through data and what’s unique about each one. The author also highlights big events in history and how this impacted the generation’s priorities and impact on the world. All interesting food for thought and gives good perspective on people of other ages. I’ll admit I have biases especially as it relates to conservatism in older generations, but this book flipped that on its head and talked about how progressive Silents and Boomers were in their own time.
      – When I Was Your Age by Kenan Thompson. I love basically all comedy memoirs, and this was no exception. This was a fun, heartwarming story of a guy who grew up before our eyes with a little behind the scenes fun stuff thrown in. He is remarkably normal for the life he’s lived, and you can tell he’s obsessed with his daughters. Very sweet, quick read and great one to listen to (on 1.5x!).
      – I also read and enjoyed The Christmas Orphan’s Club (thank you for that reco too!), Holidaze (a romcom version of the stellar book Replay), The Comeback Summer (predictable but sweet story of two sisters in Chicago) and The Good Part (another sort of time travelly romcom that was a good reminder to embrace the stage of life you’re in)!

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      • This is SO awesome, thank you for sharing! Hidden Potential is my next audiobook after Setting the Table, I’m really excited to read it. I’ve just added Generations to my audible (to read after Hidden Potential), it sounds fascinating!

        And of COURSE we love the Christmas Orphan’s Club!!!!

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    • I felt the same! It did have a bit of a slow start but then it picked up and wow it was just so good. Twist-lash is the perfect descriptor.

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  12. Nancy:

    I read The Only One Left, so good! So many twists and turns you never saw coming. Lenora was so creepy and likeable at the same time. Loved the idea of the town with long hidden secrets where gossip and reality overlap. Definitely one I couldn’t put down and one of the best thrillers I’ve read in a while. I’ve read a couple other books of Sager’s but this one was by far the best.

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    • I agree with all of this! Especially that this was his best book yet. I have read most of his books and some get a little too gruesome / off the rails.

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  13. Cait:

    I just got Hitchcock Blondes on Audible and Creative Way of Being hardcover! I loved “She Started It” and was so proud I guessed the twist!

    Last night I finished “Empty Eyes” by Charlie Donlea. I’m going to go through his backlist now – he reminds me a lot of Lisa Jewell. I’d say the writing isn’t as strong (it’s not bad though by any means!) but his twists are sooooo good.

    1.4.24 Reply
    • Haha! I was so proud as well!!! Hope you LOVE the two non-fiction picks.
      It sounds like I need to check out Charlie Donlea — love a twist. Do you have a favorite you’d recommend, or should I start with Empty Eyes?

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  14. Renee Stagner:

    Agree 100% on Girls in the Garden. The Only One Left is one of the best thrillers I’ve read in a long time. I couldn’t put it down and didn’t see the ending ahead of time. She Started It is next on my list.

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    • Yeah, it really surprised me!!!! She Started It will not surprise you (I guessed the twist) but it is catty and fun and compulsively readable.

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  15. OK, I read The Only One Left on your rec, and I mostly really liked it…and…it also felt a little too similar to Verity for me to really love it. (I liked Verity! I just…already read it :))

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    • Oh that is so funny! I got Verity vibes in the beginning but felt like the books were ultimately so different!

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  16. Em:

    For a twisty story, First Lie Wins by Ashley Elston is great!

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