The 23 Books I’ve Read So Far This Year | Reviews, Ratings and Recommendations
Just a few years ago, if you’d told me that I’d be reading twenty-three books in just six months I would have thought you were crazy. I’m a genuinely slow reader who finds reading at night puts me to sleep, so getting through books has always been a bit of a challenge. Although that didn’t stop me from constantly walking out of bookstores with arms full of new releases and good intentions. I have a blog post here about all the ways I’ve improved my reading habits, but something that has really helped me is looking through reading guides and recommendations from online friends that get me really excited about a particular book or genre that is new to me. So here is my list or recent reads, complete with reviews, recommendations and ratings to hopefully help you find your next books.
The Road Trip by Beth O’Leary – 4/5
I read this in just a few sittings, which I never do, so I’m using that as a testament to just how well Beth O’Leary writes. Her books just flow so easily and keep you hooked. A young group of ‘used to be’ friends unexpectedly find themselves sharing a car to a wedding and must try and get through the lengthy road trip without reopening old wounds. It has the jumpy narration of The Flatshare coupled with a scattered timeline and that combination had me flying through the pages because I kept wanting to read more about the ‘Then’ that led to the ‘Now’. Very enjoyable Summer read!
Our House by Louise Candlish – 4/5
It’s unusual to read a thriller like this that is almost written in reverse. It begins with the ‘problem’; Fiona comes home to find a couple she’s never met moving into her home, removal trucks and all. It then works backwards through her accounts of that afternoon, her husband’s suicide note that she is yet to find and the true-crime podcast she records two months later to warn others of the simplicity of the crime she has since unravelled. Really clever, very engaging and a quick read once you get into it.
Finlay Donovan Is Killing It by Elle Cosimano – 4/5
If you enjoy cozy and fluffy mystery books, then add this to your list. A flailing mystery writer meets her editor for coffee and their conversation about needing ‘this hit to be quick and neat’ is misconstrued by the desperate wife at the table over who wants to be rid of her husband. At first Finlay is amused at the idea she has been mistaken for a hitman, but the offer of $50K becomes more tempting when her own husband tells her he wants full custody of their two kids and she can barely afford rent, let alone a fancy lawyer to help her keep her children. With the help of her sassy and equally desperate uni-student babysitter the pair end up in the very alien world of criminal underbelly, assassins and blood money. I really enjoyed this lighter take on a murder-mystery novel and I’ve got the sequel on my ‘to-read’ list.
Disclaimer by Renée Knight – 3/5
This is less of a thriller, and more of a domestic suspense book in my opinion, but I enjoyed it, and once I hit the halfway point I read it within a day. I was definitely expecting some kind of dramatic twist at the end, which there kinda was but also not really. I wouldn’t put this in the same league as Gone Girl or Girl on The Train (two of my favourite domestic thrillers with an unreliable witness theme), but it’s headed in that direction.
Mystic River by Dennis Lehane – 5/5
The story centers around three men who met as young school boys, but whose lives were ripped apart when an unspeakable event happens to one of them but affects them all. The story then jumps forward thirty years to find the three men all still living in the same Boston town, their lives pulled together once again due to a local murder. This is a must-read if you enjoy suspenseful thrillers. The writing is poetic and descriptive and although the book is lengthy at almost 600 pages it didn’t ever feel long or unnecessary. The story features wonderfully rounded characters that although flawed and not overly likable, are compelling and engaging, I couldn’t put the book down. A five-star read!
138 Dates by Rebekah Campbell – 3/5
I really enjoyed the premise of this book, a date a week until you find the one, but it was longer than I think it needed to be and I know if it was a physical book I would have really struggled. Luckily I borrowed the audiobook from the library and listened while I did other things, but even playing it on double speed I had to renew the book a few times to get through it all. Good, but passable.
A Good Girl’s Guide To Murder by Holly Jackson – 4/5
I didn’t twig that this was a YA book when I bought it, but despite being aimed at a younger audience I actually loved it. It still had that youthful Nancy Drew vibe to it, but the crimes were very grown-up which kept it from feeling juvenile. I loved the way the book was written as interviews, email correspondence, text exchanges and diary entries as well as proper chapters scatted throughout. The characters were varied and well established and the ending was unexpected but still tied up all the loose ends.
Force of Nature by Jane Harper – 4/5
This is the second instalment in the Aaron Falk series and I was a little worried it wouldn’t live up to The Dry but I didn’t need to worry. It’s been a few months since AFP Financial Crimes investigator Aaron Falk solved a triple homicide in his country hometown, but he’s now back to normal, working a financial crimes case in Melbourne. When the key witness he is working with disappears on a corporate retreat, Aaron is wrapped up in the search to find her and figure out if her disappearance is accidental or if there is something more foul afoot, and if it has something to do with his case. Fast-paced, really interesting and another Jane Harper book where the atmosphere leaps off the page. I couldn’t put this down, I had to know how it ended. Highly recommend!
The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman – 5/5
I loved this book! I think I actually preferred it to the first which is unusual for me, usually sequels are chasing their five-star counterparts, but I thought the characters were more defined, the crime was easier to follow but more interesting, and there were fewer unimportant characters clogging up the field of vision. If you enjoyed the first book I definitely recommend this one, I also borrowed it from the library and listened to parts of it and the narrator is incredible. Will definitely be pre-ordering the third instalment, which is out in September – I can’t wait to have all three books, I might even do a re-read in preparation.
Case Histories by Kate Atkinson – 2/5
An excellent book that wasn’t very enjoyable. Let me explain. The book begins with three different cases from different times. Each features a murder, each with very detailed, very undesirable circumstances. What ties these cases together is that in the present day, a private investigator and former police officer has been tasked with investigating these unsolved cases and is hoping to give the remaining family the closure they are hoping for. The cases tangle together in interesting and unexpected ways, and the crimes themselves are mundane and expected. The book is well written and clever, but despite that, I’m not going to pick up the sequels. I think uncomfortable characters are great if there is something endearing or relatable about them, but almost all of these were single-dimensional and cringe-worthy to the point I found it difficult to read at times, and definitely found it hard to care about them at all.
So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo – 5/5
This is such an incredible resource. I highly recommend picking this up if you’re interested in becoming more informed about racial issues (this does focus on the US because the author is American – but it definitely has global reach) and want the vocabulary to better discuss the related issues. The author is honest, informative and encouraging, and she manages to share anecdotes freely while peppering them with her own academic learnings as a social writer. A great first book on the topic, I think back to the books I read in high school that were meant to subtly teach us about racism. I think a book like this that is open and honest and upfront about the issue is a more beneficial option.
The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell – 5/5
I loved this book. It had so many intricate plot lines and interesting character details that even the epilogue tied up things I’d forgotten about and left me shocked. It moved at just the right pace – fast enough to keep me engaged but slow enough that I was flying through the teasing chapters, itching to know what happened next – and the atmosphere of a quiet English village is never a bad backdrop for a mystery novel. The ending was both what I hoped for but in an unexpected way and I can’t wait to read more from this author.
Daring Greatly by Brené Brown – 4/5
If you’ve watched one of her world-famous TED Talks, or her equally fantastic Netflix/Binge special then Brené Brown needs no introduction. But if you’re new to her, she’s a qualified Social Worker and an academic with a Doctor of Philosophy (and multiple books) in shame, courage and wholeheartedness. It sounds more woo-woo than it actually is, I promise. Her work centers around vulnerability and showing up for life, but the way she delivers it is funny, honest, energetic and full of sincerity. I’m making it my goal to read all of her books over the next few years because they always leave me feeling like I’ve learnt something important. She also has a podcast, she guest-stars on other podcasts and has done heaps of interviews on YouTube too.
The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon – 4/5
If I’m totally honest, I picked this book up because I loved the cover. I also loved that it was set in Seattle and the idea of a fake on-air romance at a radio station. But the story was even better than I thought it would be. The characters were really endearing, and the writing was quick and funny. The book also covers difficult family dynamics, friendships, workplace issues and familial grief in a really beautiful way that felt natural and easy. Very excited to read more from this author.
Good Girl, Bad Blood by Holly Jackson – 3/5
I must say, I didn’t love this one nearly as much as the first, but it started interestingly enough, and it finished okay. I’d recommend this if you really enjoyed the first and were keen for a sequel, but not as a stand-alone read. It felt convenient and expected, and the writing wasn’t as good as the first in my opinion.
You Are A Badass by Jen Sincero – 1/5
In full transparency, I actually started reading this book ages ago, shelved it and had every intention of coming back to it and just never did. When I picked it up again I persevered past the point that lost me the first time but it didn’t get much better. I wanted to love this, two people whose opinions I really trust recommended it, but it really wasn’t my style of self-improvement. If themes like inner Source Energy, meditating things into fruition and vibrating at a positive frequency resonate with you I highly recommend you check out this book. If not, it’s a hard pass.
56 Days by Catherine Ryan Howard – 4/5
This is one of the first books I’ve read where the recent pandemic plays a part and boy is this a doozy! Two people meet right before the pandemic hits Ireland and decide to spend lockdown together. 56 days later and one of them is dead. The chapters alternate between the two main characters, but also jump around the timeline in the lead-up to the grim discovery. There are also occasional chapters from the police investigation happening in ‘real time’ which kept me flying through the chapters to try and make sense of it all. I feel like the ending was a little underwhelming, but overall I really enjoyed it.
Goodnight Beautiful by Aimee Molloy – 3/5
I thought I was enjoying this book and then at the end of part one there was a bit of a revelation which left me feeling like I needed to start the whole book again to reread it knowing this new information… I didn’t, but I felt like from then onwards I was reading a new book. I have mixed feelings about this book because (no spoilers, but) the twist towards the beginning got me hooked, but also made me doubt what I’d already read. From then on it was a much faster read, but I also didn’t love the ending. Overall, I enjoyed it, but of all the mystery books I’ve read this year, it wouldn’t be the first recommendation.
The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone by Felicity McLean – 3/5
Going into this I thought it was going to be a creepy thriller, but I think it reads more like literary fiction with a mystery at its core. The book begins with the homecoming of Tikka to her small hometown where her family still resides, a town still shaken by the disappearance of the three Van Apfel sisters years earlier. Tikka and her sister were friends with the trio, and hold insights into the night they disappeared that they never shared. Beautifully written, well-paced and with interesting characters. I could picture every scene – the descriptions were wonderful, and it was overall a good read. I think I just felt a bit let down by the lack of thriller served up with the mystery.
Second First Impressions by Sally Thorne – 1/5
I’ve realised this author just isn’t for me. The Hating Game sounded like a great premise, but I didn’t enjoy the writing, but then the blurb of this one really piqued my interest so I picked it up, hoping that I’d enjoy the author a bit more. Firm no to both books. The story follows an old-soul 24 year old who works as a live-on-site retirement village manager. When the village owner’s rebellious son comes to learn more about the family business a predictable and cringeworthy romance ensues. I thought a love story sprinkled with oldies sounded fun and different but the book was eye-rollingly cheesy, obvious and predictable. I found the writing difficult to follow – in quite a few areas, I’d have to go back and re-read sentences because lines didn’t follow what had just been said or in other places sentences just came out of nowhere. I’ve since read a few fellow reviews that said the same, so I know it wasn’t just me. It’s a no, won’t be trying any more from Sally Thorne. I’ve learnt my lesson now.
Verity by Colleen Hoover – 4/5
I knew this had a major twist at the end, so I was definitely bracing for that, but golly, there were moments throughout the whole book that had me gasping. There were two lines in the first hundred pages or so that really shocked me, and it meant I flew through this book needing to know what happened next. Struggling writer Lowen accepts a very lucrative offer to finish the final three books in a successful mystery series when the author is irrevocably injured in a car accident. She moves into the author’s home, hosted by her husband and their one surviving child to begin the enormous task of deciphering years of notes and research to finish out the book series. If you enjoy mystery books with a creepy undertone this is for you. However, I found the writing a little clumsy in places, especially for a book about two mystery writers, and certain directions of the plot quite unrealistic. This wasn’t the five-star read for me that it seems to be for everyone else, but I enjoyed it a lot.
Atomic Habits by James Clear – 4/5
This book covers a really basic premise (how to create good habits and rid yourself of bad ones) with incredibly basic and fundamental ideas that are seemingly obvious and easy to implement but could make a genuine difference. Highly recommend this if you struggle to stick with resolutions (me) and are looking for some tangible techniques to make the hold. It’s a touch repetitive, which many books of this style are, but I didn’t feel like the book dragged either.
The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey – 5/5
You know how sometimes you start reading a book and you just know you’re going to love it? That happened here. Cover to cover I was hooked, it has the perfect ratio of police investigation of the crime to personal plot lines of the characters and the ending was both clever and plausible, which is my favourite way to end mystery novels. I’ve got the sequel firmly on my TBR list, and I’ve got my eye on the stand-alone book from Sarah Bailey too.
Have you read anything lately that you’d really recommend? What was the last book that you think was a five-star read??