January was a great month of books. The best thing I read was actually an audio book – Unreasonable Hospitality. This was meant to be a fun chaser to Setting the Table (which I also loved!) but I liked this even better. I got emotional at times! Besides that there was some fantastic literary fiction and loads of thrillers (of the thrillers, The Other Mothers was probably my favorite!) Tell me your book recs in the comments!
(And don’t forget: every book I’ve ever read is saved to The Library. You can sort by grade and filter by genre!
Everything I Read in January 2024
The Covenant of Water, by Abraham Verghese
This was a long one (and truthfully a slog at times — it’s quite dense and over 700 pages long!) but I am really happy I read it. While parts really dragged (I am just being honest!), the last eighty pages were magnificent. All of the little details came together so beautifully, making the more tedious parts so worthwhile.
The book is the story of a family in Kerala (on South India’s Malabar Coast). It follows three generations of a family from 1900-1977. The book opens with a with a twelve year old girl on her wedding day, set to marry a much older (forty years old) man. Their family suffers a strange condition: in every generation, at least one person dies by drowning. We watch this young girl go from child to family matriarch (ultimately becoming known by all as “Big Ammachi.”) Big Ammatchi is an incredible character. We meet her children and grandchildren, we watch the family multiply and suffer extraordinary losses. It is a long book, with a lot of emotions and a truly extraordinary ending. It felt tedious at times but I loved the story. Overall Score: A. Order on Bookshop.org or Amazon.
Hello Beautiful, by Ann Napolitano
This was recommended to me by so many friends (online and IRL). When I did my best books of 2023 list, so many people were like “But what about Hello Beautiful.” I ordered it and put everything else aside. For the first 2/3 of the book, I was very meh. I talked about this on stories and a lot of you felt this way (I guess it’s a polarizing book!). But then I loved the last third, and because of that, ended up being really glad that I kept going. It’s slow paced and I don’t really enjoy the author’s writing style. But it is similar to Tom Lake in the way that it does capture close family relationships so well. As someone with two sisters, I liked the book just because of that.
William Walters was not loved by his parents. The only thing that really got him through school was his love of basketball. Once he gets to college at Northwestern, he meets bright, ambitious Julia Padavano. Julia welcomes him into her family.. loving parents and her three ultra close sisters. There is bookish Sylvie, artist Cecelia, and loving Emeline. For the first time in his life, William begins to understand what family looks like. He and Julia marry immediately after college but then, darkness strikes. What happens in the following year pushes the sisters apart. Can the girls ever find there way back to each other? It is an homage to Little Woman and while it was slow at points, I did love the story and think it’s worth reading. Overall Score: B+. Order on Bookshop.org or Amazon.
What Napoleon Could Not Do, by DK Nnuro
This was at times, very depressing to read, but also a beautiful book. It is the story of brother and sister Belinda and Jacob and in a way, it is a bit of an anti-American Dream. They grew up in Ghana but their lives took very different paths. We meet Jacob on the day of his divorce (from a wife living in America, who he’s never met). All he wants is to get to America; he feels as though everything will go right for him if he can just get there. Meanwhile his sister Belinda managed to get their for boarding school, and then went on to get several fancy degrees and marry rich. As her father puts it, she has done “what Napoleon could not do.” The thing is, neither of them are happy. Nor is Belinda’s wealthy husband Wilder.
Despite growing up in America, and having more than he could ever need, he’s still Black in America. We get to know each character as the book is broken into three chapters. It broke my heart more than once (especially Wilder’s section). If I had to say what the theme of the book is, it would be disappointment in America (experienced by three very different situations). This has been on every best books list and it is (especially as a privileged white person), hard to read, but it’s beautifully written and has an important message. Overall Score: A. Order on Bookshop.org or Amazon.
The Family Remains, by Lisa Jewell
My Lisa Jewell bender continues! This was prime Jewell– super twisty with individual stories that weave together beautifully. And creepy characters. There’s always a bit of a creep. I did not realize it was the sequel to The Family Upstairs until I was a good way in (the book is a standalone either way so you don’t have to have read the first one) but once I realized that, it made the book even more exciting.
There are three intersecting stories. First there’s DCI Samule Owusu who discovers a bag of bones on the shore of the Thames. Then there is Rachel Rimmer who has just received news of her husband’s murder (but she doesn’t seem too upset about it). And then there are Lucy and Henry (brother and sister; you may remember them from The Family Upstairs). Siblings, trying to rebuild their lives after a horrifying tragedy. Lucy is about to purchase her first home, Henry is still brooding over the boy from their past. As all three stories become increasingly intense, they weave together beautifully in a way that only Lisa Jewell can do. I read it in under 24 hours. Overall Score: A. Order on Bookshop.org or Amazon.
The Heiress, by Rachel Hawkins
I have to be honest, I was disappointed in this one. I think it is because, a) I have high expectations for Rachel Hawkins (I generally really enjoy her books and had pre-ordered this) and b) I’d just read The Only One Left (which had similar themes around a potentially murderess older woman and a beautiful old estate) which was just a much better book.
Ruby McTavish is one of North Carolina’s richest women, but she’s also notorious: she was kidnapped as a child and as an adult, she had four husbands who all died in different ways. Ruby and her family ruled the little town of Tavistock (think of maybe Cashiers) and her family all lived in a beautiful estate in the Blue Ridge Mountains: Ashby House. But the family has never gotten along. When she died, she left Ashby house and her entire fortune to her adopted son, Camden. Camden just wants a normal life and nothing to do with his house or the money (his cousins feel differently). When his uncle dies, Camden and his wife Jules find themselves back at Ashby House.
Questions about Ruby’s background come to life. Was she actually Ruby McTavish? What actually happened to those four husbands? Why did she adopt Cam to begin with? I liked this book but expected it to be better. I found a lot of times the plot went over the top and too off the rails. The twists were easy to guess. It is still a fun read but not Hawkins’ best. Overall Score: B. Order On Bookshop.org or Amazon.
The Other Mothers, by Katherine Faulkner
I had been really looking forward to this one, as I really loved the author’s first book, Greenwich Park. Tash is a journalist, investing a young nanny’s death. The girl died under mysterious circumstances and it just doesn’t feel like it could be accidental. She’s also a new mom, desperate for connection. At her son’s playgroup, she befriends a group of sophisticated mothers. Although she often feels like an outsider (comparing her small basement apartment to their beautiful townhomes; always feeling ratty and underdressed), it feels like she finally has some community: friends she can count on and trust. She is swept up into a world of privilege — coffee dates that turn into brunch, spa days, play dates that involve champagne. But as she dives deeper into her investigation, it starts to feel like these glamorous mothers may not really be her friends.
In fact, no one really seems to be who they are! Problems with her husband arise and she questions everything. It is fast paced and thrilling as she rushes to figure out what really happened. I liked this one because it kept my mind working the entire time. Right up until the last few pages, I wasn’t sure of who did what or what was going to happen. It’s twisty and fun, but masterfully done. My only small gripe was that I did not love the ending, otherwise it would have been an A+! Overall Score: A. Order on Bookshop.org or Amazon.
The Helsinki Affair, by Anna Pitoniak
Amanda Cole is a young CIA officer on the rise, following in the footsteps of her father Charlie (a spy during the Cold War). One day, a Russian defector walks into her office, warning Cole and her team of a senator’s imminent assassination. No one but Cole takes the man’s warning seriously and hours later, the senator is assassinated. Cole is promoted and given the case of a lifetime, but there is one scary thing: why is her father’s name in the senator’s notes? As Cole + another spy (the fearless, older Kath Frost) race to understand what is happening, they discover corrupt oligarchs, financial manipulation, and a terrifying way that Russia has discovered to manipulate not only the markets but world policy. Where does her father fit in with all of this?
I liked but did not love this, whereas I loved Pitoniak’s last book (Our American Friend). At times the plot felt a little bit over complicated; I had a hard time keeping up. Still, I tore through it in just a few days and found myself thinking about Amanda and Charlie long after I’d finished it. If you are looking for a fast paced spy thriller, I think you will really love this! Overall Score: B+ // Order on Bookshop.org or Amazon.
Setting the Table, by Danny Meyer
This is an older one but I saw it recommended somewhere and immediately downloaded it. I LOVED it. It is equal parts business book and memoir. When I lived in New York I loved eating at Danny Meyer’s restaurants (and I still do!). Shake Shack, Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Cafe… the man is a genius! He is someone who definitely started on third base, coming from a very privileged background, etc. but the way he used that privilege and has run his restaurants is genius. I wish more restaurants (and businesses) focused on hospitality the way that he and his teams do.
Even though it is a little bit older, if you have a business or work in the service industry (I 100% include influencing as the service industry!), it is an absolute must-read. So much incredible advice on how to treat people and build a loyal clientele. And it’s fun. He is honest and isn’t afraid to share stories where he messed up. I really loved this – it’s a fun audiobook listen too as it’s not super long. Overall Score: A+. Order on Bookshop.org or Amazon.
Unreasonable Hospitality, by Will Giudara
This was one of my favorite books in a long time. I LOVED it. It was meant to be a chaser to Setting the Table as Guidara was a protege of Danny Meyer in some ways, but I liked it even more! Guidara climbed his way up the restaurant ranks (working under Meyer for a hefty chunk of the time), ultimately buying Eleven Madison Park (with Daniel Humm) from Danny Meyer. The story of how they built and grew EMP is pretty legendary. At times it reads like a sports book where you are rooting for a team and just want them to win. I found myself becoming emotional so many times as the restaurant won awards and excellent reviews. It’s equal parts restaurant memoir where you root for this team, but also a business book.
Guidara applies lessons he has learned in the restaurant world to other professions like real estate. I truly believe anyone, in any profession, could benefit from reading this. And it’s also very fun. I listened to it on audio (Guidara narrates) and cannot recommend it enough. I have actually never dined at Eleven Madison Park and now I’m dying to go (though I hear it’s quite different now!). Overall Score: A+. Order on Bookshop.org or Amazon.