Everything I Read in January 2024.

Everything I Read in January 2024

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

Literary Fiction

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.

Thrillers

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.

Non-Fiction

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.

Leave a Comment

Leave a Comment

12 Comments

  1. Cait:

    I agree about “The Heiress” – the author is still auto-buy, but I was so underwhelmed by this and kept thinking “that’s it?”

    Right now I am reading the new Stacy Willingham “Only If You’re Lucky” – it’s her third book so by now I know her books are well-written and slow, just takes a while to ramp up. Now I am at the part where Things Are Happening and it’s getting good!

    I also really liked “First Lie Wins” which is getting a lot of hype right now – I was legit mad when it was over because I was enjoying it so much!

    2.1.24 Reply
    • I just finished First Lie Wins and agree!!!
      Stacy Willingham is in my TBR pile; I can’t wait to read it!

      2.1.24 Reply
      • Heidi:

        Same! Recommending First Lie Wins to all of my thriller-loving friends.

        2.1.24 Reply
    • nancy:

      Felt the same way about The Heiress – meh. I felt like it actually got a little confusing at the end. Just picked up First Lie Wins to start today and have Only if You are Lucky ready to go after that. I’ve read Willingham’s other books after reading the reviews here and loved them. Also looking forward to The Women from Kristin Hannah which comes out next week – not usually a big fan of historical fiction, but this one looks really good and is getting such great reviews.

      2.2.24 Reply
  2. Katie:

    I always love these recaps! I absolutely loved Hello Beautiful but I know that it can be polarizing which makes me kind of love it more. I love that about reading!

    I had such a good month of reading that I had to include more synopses than I usually do…It just felt right haha.

    Margos Got Money Troubles by Rufi Thorpe – This book doesn’t come out until June, but want to make sure it’s on everyone’s radar! I couldn’t love this book more, and I will continue to read whatever Thorpe writes. She has a way of making characters who have completely different situations from me feel so relatable, her character’s voices are so distinct and authentic. Margo is the daughter of a Hooters waitress and a professional wrestler, and finds herself pregnant from her English 121 professor at the age of 19. Against everyone’s advice, she decides to keep the baby. As the title suggests, money troubles ensue, and Margo realizes she’s in over her head. She reconnects with her father, and starts an unconventional side hustle that proves more lucrative than I thought. The characters in this book are just so lovable and relatable, even though their situations are so different. This really is a gift that Thorpe has as a writer, I connect with her characters so deeply with whom I have nothing in common. I really think it’s worth not knowing much about this story when you start, it was so much fun being surprised.

    The Only One Left by Riley Sager – I hate to say it, but I think I’m falling out of love with twisty thrillers. I also think part of it is that thriller authors are simply running out of twists and plot ideas, so are jumping the shark by throwing so many outlandish storylines together to try to be create something new. Unfortunately, this book suffered from a lot of this in my opinion (sorry Grace!!!). And I’ve loved Riley Sager’s books in the past! So I really think I’m just outgrowing them. This book follows our (very frustrating) protagonist Kit, who after nearly losing her job as an in home aid, is placed in a home no one else wants to work in…the home of Lenora Hope who supposedly murdered her parents and sister in 1929. Lenora has had a stroke and needs help with all day to day tasks, and Kit really doesn’t have another option. One her very first day, Lenora tells Kit she wants to tell her everything that happened, and they start typing together. It was just so over the top, I didn’t buy any of it. But I think this might be a “me” problem, above all else!

    Mercury by Amy Jo Burns – I read this author’s debut novel and didn’t love it, so was hesitant to try this but am SO glad I did. I think if you enjoyed Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano you will enjoy this, and pretty much anything that Sarah of Sarah’s Bookshelves podcast recommends I love. This is the story of a family of roofers in a western Pennsylvania town called Mercury. Brothers Baylor, Waylon, and Shay, and father Mick are committed to being the best roofers in town, while their mother Elise is constantly wondering how she fits into the family and what her purpose is. Their family dynamics are messy and infuriating, and it all comes to light when Marley moves to town with her mother and becomes intertwined with the Joseph boys. Marley has unique relationships with each brother, and a very interesting connection to their mother that unfolds throughout the book. It took me a few chapters to really get into this story but stick with it! It’s definitely a character driven story, but I really enjoyed getting to know these imperfect but lovable people. This story is heartbreaking but very moving, and I think I’ll be thinking about the Joseph family for a very long time.

    In Memoriam by Alice Winn – It’s 1914 and Sidney Ellwood and Henry Gaunt are teenagers at their elite boarding school in England when they decide to join the war. They’re young and full of enthusiasm and energy, and also have overwhelming feelings for one another that they don’t understand. There is so much violence and gore in this book that it helped to still have threads of a romance in there as well…the dichotomy of love and war felt like almost too much at points, but I know that’s what the author was going for. While I liked this book, there were parts that dragged and it did take me a while to read despite not being a very long book.

    The Girls From Corona Del Mar by Rufi Thrope – Another Rufi Thorpe book! I had the biggest book hangover after Margo so thought another book by this author might do the trick, and I was right. Like all her books I’ve read, she just has such a compelling way of making every character feel relatable and every mundane event feel so exciting. Her books have the most momentum when not much even happens, I don’t even know how to describe it. This book is about the friendship between Lorie Ann and Mia, told from Mia’s perspective throughout the years and across the continents of their ups and downs. It came out a few years ago, so would be a great pick if you’re looking for something to check out at the library!

    That was so long winded but I can’t wait to see what others have read in the comments!

    2.1.24 Reply
  3. Sally:

    I FINALLY read Remarkably Bright Creatures (I know, I’m late to the party) and absolutely loved it. It surprised me in so many ways and is just so heartwarming. I also loved the setting. So many books set in small-towns are set in the South, so I thought it was an interesting perspective to read about a small town and its community in the PNW.

    I also recently read and loved Sorrow and Bliss. I think it’s probably pretty polarizing, but I adored it. It’s hard to read at times, but ultimately just a lovely book with such an interesting cast of characters that you grow to love. It’s also truly laugh out loud funny at parts.

    Elizabeth Acevedo’s newest book, Family Lore, is another recent read. I kept putting off reading it because it didn’t seem like my type of book (I don’t like anything fantasy), but I’m so, so glad I decided to read it. It’s just lovely. She knows how to write these incredibly complex characters that you just grow to love and root for.

    I also read Wellness by Nathan Hill. It’s long – ~700 pages, which I’m sure will deter some people. I almost didn’t start it when I realized the length, but wow I’m so glad it did. It’s such a great commentary on modern society and the role technology plays in our lives.

    2.1.24 Reply
  4. Lauryl:

    My favorite post each month! I had a more successful nonfiction month than fiction for some reason, but read some good ones. The two nonfiction you mention above look great, so does The Helsinki Affair!

    King: A Life by Jonathan Eig. I listened to this one, and I did think it was a bit longer than it needed to be, but it taught me so much about MLK’s life and the FBI’s obsession with him that I never knew.

    Sipping Dom Perignon Through a Straw by Eddie Ndopu. This is a memoir about an African man with a degenerative disease that has ravaged his body and left him needing full time care. He is a brilliant student and activist and ends up getting into Oxford in a polisci program, but the hardships he faces literally trying to live are shocking and in many cases infuriating. I really enjoyed his wit and humor and perspective, I just wish the book added a little more detail on the causes he supports and work he is doing rather than mostly focus on his hardships. It was still a good listen, just would’ve loved that context.

    The last book I’ll mention was probably my favorite – American Kingpin by Nick Bilton. This is nonfiction but reads like a thriller. It’s the story of a man who founded The Silk Road, which is basically Amazon for drugs, guns, poisons, (even human organs!), and the efforts by the different branches of government to find him. I was riveted by this book and had to make myself not Google what happened before the end and spoil myself!

    Finally, I finally read Tom Lake and the first ACOTAR book and liked them both!

    2.1.24 Reply
  5. m:

    I must read Unreasonable Hospitality! I’ve been lucky to dine at Eleven Madison several times since the very beginning and have enjoyed every single iteration. It’s such a gem no matter what the concept. I always love your non-fiction foodie recs.

    2.2.24 Reply
  6. Frieda:

    It seems like you had a very exciting and earnest reading month. I just ordered “What Napoleon could not do” because it sounds like such a must-read for me as a privleged white person. I read mostly light murder mystery books last month, my favorite was “The man who died twice” from the Thursday Murder Club series. It contains a lot of wisdom (the main characters are all retired seniors) and the crimes are unbelievable enough to not give me nightmares.
    P.S. I really love reading the comments with recommendations as well. So cool that there is still people in 2024 exchanging reading tips in the blog comments!

    2.3.24 Reply
  7. Lin:

    Like so many other readers, I love and rely heavily on all your book lists and recs! Thanks for all the great details. Thrillers are my jam, but I am also trying to sprinkle in more nonfiction through audiobooks while on my daily walks. I randomly decided to listen to Boy George’s new autobiography, Karma, and it was wonderful! He narrates and is quite funny!

    2.10.24 Reply
  8. Laura:

    I just finished the Collective Regrets of Clover and absolutely LOVED it! my favorite of the year so far for sure. Highly recommend!!!!

    2.15.24 Reply