First Half 2023 Books in Review

Books so far this year.

  • My Lord, He Calls Me: Stories of Faith By Black American Latter-day Saints–by general editor Alice Faulkner Burch*
  • The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams*
  • Letters to a Young Mormon by Adam S. Miller*
  • The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman and Nan Silver
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman*
  • The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
  • Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien*
  • Persuasion by Jane Austen
  • Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World–And Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling, Anna Rosling Ronnlund, and Ola Rosling*
  • The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown
  • The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman*
  • The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan*
  • The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera
  • The Last Mapmaker by Christina Soontornvat
  • The Impossible First: From Fire to Ice–Crossing Antarctica Alone by Colin O’Brady*
  • My Dear Hamilton: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie *
  • Freewater by Amina Luqman-Dawson
  • The Lido by Libby Page*
  • The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman*

Novels

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

This historical fiction novel covers the life of Esme as she is raised by her father–literally under the feet and desks of lexicographers who are completing the first Oxford English Dictionary. This book honors the love of words. Part way through I got a little annoyed at some of the plot devices that seem to be overused to appeal to today’s readers, but as I kept reading, the whole meaning became more clear. A book about words, about women’s words, about women’s experiences.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

This book was recommended to me several years ago and I really didn’t like the main character right off the bat, so I stopped. But it’s been recommended so many times that I had to try it again. And this time, I was hooked. Yes, Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine and completely insufferable. But this time I saw into her, just as the author intended. And I was rooting for her and terrified with her and came to understand her more. And at the end, I cried hard for her. See past her brash, cold ways and come to love one who has suffered.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

A quaint little mystery set in England in the 50s. Flavia de Luce is 11 and extremely precocious, sassy, and a little bit mean. When a mysterious murder places someone she loves as a suspect, she determines she must solve the mystery. A fun read, although I kind of assumed since the 11-year-old was working on the crime that it wouldn’t get as dark as it did–but it did.

Persuasion by Jane Austen

I read this for a little book club I’m in and I actually don’t know if I had read it before or if I had just watched several versions of it. I love Jane Austen just like most people like me do. 🙂 But this read–I wanted to yell and scream at Anne. A broken engagement, many years of wondering, and an unexpected meeting–and IF ONLY PEOPLE WOULD JUST TALK TO EACH OTHER INSTEAD OF WONDERING WHAT THE OTHER WAS THINKING EVERYONE WOULD BE HAPPIER. The end.

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

This. Was. Amazing. I thoroughly enjoyed this book from beginning to end and could hardly stand to stop listening. I think I took extra long walks around the neighborhood just so I could enjoy the characters in this book. A small group of people in a retirement village form a little club to solve cold murders. But then, of course, a real murder happens. This group is determined to wheedle information out of the police to solve the murder first.

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman

This is the second book in the Thursday Murder Club series and I can’t share anything about it because then you’ll know something of what happened in the first and that just will not do. But, I am thoroughly enjoying this group of seniors and their antics. Looking forward to the third book.

The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan

The weaving of this book is beautiful. Multiple stories, such sadness, just enough happiness, and a really clever idea. It’s like the short story author’s dream book to write, but only if you can weave them all into a larger story. After a terrible tragedy, author Anthony Peardew turns to finding lost things, cataloguing them, and keeping them–perhaps in an effort to bring back what was lost to him. After many years, he knows someone needs to try and return those items to their owners.

My Dear Hamilton: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie *

As the name indicates, this is a historical fiction novel about Eliza Schuyler Hamilton. While I sometimes have a hard time with historical fiction biographies, I also know that there are so few women’s biographies and women’s words in our history, so I appreciated the opportunity to read a fairly well researched book to give life to this extremely interesting woman whose influence is hardly recognized.

The Lido by Libby Page

Simply delightful. 86-year-old Rosemary has swum at the outdoor community pool–the Lido–since she was a child. Kate is a young journalist looking to understand her future as she experiences challenging panic attacks. When the community announces the Lido is closing, Rosemary knows she has to do something about it, and Kate starts to report on the adventures to keep it open. I’m not much of a swimmer, but as I read this book, I just about had to buy a pass to a local pool to get in the water!

Non-Fiction

My Lord, He Calls Me: Stories of Faith By Black American Latter-day Saints–by general editor Alice Faulkner Burch

This book is a series of essays from Black members of the Church. Some are conversion stories, others share spiritually uplifting experiences, and many share their experiences with racism within the Church and their decision to stay in the gospel. I thought this was beautifully done and helped me better understand the challenges these members faced and still face in the Church. There is always more work to be done.

The Impossible First: From Fire to Ice–Crossing Antarctica Alone by Colin O’Brady

Colin O’Brady was the first person to cross Antarctica completely unassisted. He was already quite the adventurer and wanted to accomplish this “first” while at the same time, another famous adventurer Captain Rudd, was also planning to be the first. This engaged them in what kind of became a race across the ice. O’Brady comes off a little bit full of himself at times, but the experience is interesting and wild.

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World–And Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling, Anna Rosling Ronnlund, and Ola Rosling

This book is worth a listen or read. Basically, the world is better than we think it is and we’re not all going to heck in a handbasket (according to this set of researchers). But this gives perspective on understanding improvements in the world, trying not to live in negativity or fear, and recognizing generalizations. I liked the concept of a different categorization of the world (ie. get rid of developed and developing countries as a definition and focus on income levels–dollars per day, adjusted for price differences–to really understand where we can improve).

Middle Grade Fiction

The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera

The earth is going to be destroyed and only a few people are able to secretly leave on a journey through space for hundreds of years. This dystopian book explores the life of Petra–one of those who makes it out. I love the weaving of Petra’s history, her culture, her language, and her love for her family into this book. It is a lot sad and doesn’t quite end with as much hope as I wanted, but I still enjoyed it.

The Last Mapmaker by Christina Soontornvat

Sai is an apprentice to a mapmaker–a mapmaker who is desperately wanted for an upcoming expedition to the Southern Seas–where riches (and dragons) await. I appreciated the acknowledgement throughout of moral failings with many characters–while still allowing them to be good. As in another Soontornvat book I read, I felt like it wrapped up way too fast at the end, though–all the suspense and build up satisfied in half a dozen pages (it felt like).

Freewater by Amina Luqman-Dawson

This was the winner of the Coretta Scott King Award and the Newbery Medal in 2023 which is what brought it to my attention. One night, two young children and their mother run away from their plantation to escape their enslavement. The children make it to the Great Dismal Swamp where they encounter others who escaped and are now a maroon community safe in the swamps. But their mother didn’t make it with them. As they discover freedom and community, they also wonder how they can know if their mother is OK. The story weaves many different perspectives and stories to build the narrative. This is loosely based on actual maroon communities in the swamp, something I had never heard of before. I was grateful for the introduction to study more about them.

Self-Help

Letters to a Young Mormon by Adam S. Miller

Can I count this as self help? I really loved the perspective in this book about many topics in the gospel. The author wrote this as something he wanted to give to his children–someone who is growing in their faith. But I think it helpful to anyone. Recommended.

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman and Nan Silver

Before I got married and as I was finishing up my last appointments with my therapist, I asked for recommendations for marriage books. This was the one and I’m not surprised since Gottman really is the “country’s foremost relationship expert” as the rest of the title says. I read this over several months after getting married to try and practice some of the principles in the book. I noticed patterns and thoughts that aren’t helpful to making a marriage work, but I’m grateful there are tips for how to combat those. Soft starts and being aware of when I invite the Four Horsemen in are my main goals (oh and of course inviting them out).

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown

I started reading this one yearssss ago. So many years ago. And never finished. And now I have finished it. And I love Brene Brown and I feel like she wants me to love me. So I’m continuing to work on being wholehearted and embracing who I am.

A Category All Its Own

Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien

This book took me a very long time to finish. It was done in various spurts but ultimately became more successful when I switched to an audiobook (until it was auto-returned to the library and put on hold again haha). These are the myths and the legends and the spiritual stories that form the foundation of Middle Earth. Some of the stories are beautiful. Some are so complex that I felt like someone must feel when reading the Bible for the first time with no background into any of the stories. I kind of felt like I needed to study it. Alas, as I neared the end, the unfamiliar became familiar and I reveled in the stories that were more related to what I knew.

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