January 2023 Books

Chaos is off to a great start with his reading goals for the new year.  In January, he knocked out eight new books!  He hit a good mix of books he received for Christmas and books he meant to get around to last year.  Check out some of what he got into and see if you find anything you like.

Books will be rated on a 1 – 5 star scale with 1 being bad and 5 being excellent.  If you enjoy what you see and don’t want to wait until the next book post, please follow us on Goodreads.  We’ll stay consistently updated there before compiling our month’s reading and thoughts here.

The comics I have read will also be included at the end of the post.  Those will just be listed and not officially reviewed.  However, if you ever want to hear about any specific comic in particular or want my thoughts, don’t be afraid to ask.  I enjoy discussing everything I read. 

Let’s go!

Once More Upon a Time by Roshani Chokshi – 3/5 Stars

Imelda and Ambrose found true love and their happily ever after.  Then, it was taken away by a witch.  The two are fated to a loveless relationship and to eventually go their separate ways.  But first, Imelda and Ambrose reluctantly go on one last quest together in order to obtain their heart’s true desires.  Along the way, they may need to discover what those desires actually are.

This is a quick and cute rom-com-eque story that has fun playing in the realm of fairy tales.  At times the story embraces fairy tale tropes and at others it turns them on their head to play with readers’ expectations.  Chokshi makes great use of her setting.  

Once More Upon a Time is a charming book that doesn’t overstay its welcome.  The characters are fun, and while the ending is never truly in doubt, there is enough of the third-act rom-com plot to have readers worrying for the futures of Imelda and Ambrose.

This is a great pick for anyone who loves love, fairy tales, or the lovers to enemies/enemies to lovers tropes.

The Deal of A Lifetime by Fredrik Backman – 3.5/5 Stars

A man is given the chance to save a young girl, but in doing so he must give up more than most people would be willing to part with.  Before doing so, he must visit his son for the first time in years.  In order to make the deal of a lifetime, one must know the worth of a lifetime.  

This is a short story that can be knocked out in a single sitting.  Here, Backman crafts a story of love, loss, and hope.  Its heartfelt nature is sure to resonate with many readers.  

Backman does a lot with this limited space and is able to squeeze a lot of life into his characters.  

Not much can be said without spoiling the whole story, but this one is worth checking out, especially if you already know how great of a writer Backman can be.

That’s Not What Happened by Kody Keplinger – 4/5 Stars

A school shooting is a terrible tragedy, but so are the aftereffects that it can leave on the survivors and families of victims.  Three years have passed since the Virgil County High School Massacre.  During that time lives have changed, but one story continues to grow: The story of Sarah, the girl who held onto her love of Jesus until her final moments.  Sarah’s best friend, Lee has struggled with the trauma she still lives with after surviving the shooting and with her friends’ posthumous rise as a symbol, especially since Lee knows the stories that have spread about the shooting may not be 100% factual.

In a world that can both sensationalize and ignore the tragedy of mass shootings, Keplinger attempts to write a story that looks at the ground level of these incidents: the good, the bad, and the often ugly.  This book will hit emotions hard as children’s pain and fears are fully delved into.  While Lee is the perspective character, many of the survivors will have an opportunity to share about their own experiences.  They are never easy to read through but the truth isn’t alway easy.

The character work is great in this book, and Keplinger perfectly sets up Lee and the other survivors’ battle for and against truth.  There is a realness to this story that looks at the many effects of tragedy both for those who endured it and those who look in on it.  Each of the survivors’ have their own stories to tell and each is worth the time.  During all of this, Keplinger also takes the time to explore normal high school situations such as love, friendship, future hopes, and sexuality (Lee identifies as asexual).

This book is really well done, but I warn against anyone going in too lightly.  It can be a tough read at times due to its content.  If you can stomach the pain surrounding a shooting, then I highly recommend That’s Not How It Happened.  

Hidden Pictures by Jason Rekulak – 4.5/5 Stars

Mallory Quinn is trying to overcome her past demons, freshly out of rehab and looking to continue on the right track while working as a nanny.  The family that has hired her seems perfect and it’s impossible for her not to love little Teddy, the boy she’s been brought on to watch.  Unfortunately, Teddy’s artwork begins displaying terrifying images that may tie into his mysterious imaginary friend or to the murder that happened almost one hundred years ago in the pool house that Mallory calls home.  With the help of a handsome landscaper, Mallory hopes to get to the bottom of this in order to protect Teddy, but she must also be careful not to seem like she’s gone crazy or relapsed.

This is definitely a tense and creepy book.  The inclusion of Teddy’s drawings throughout the novel also adds so much, with each piece of artwork adding more dread and unease.   Rekulak seeds quite a few possibilities as to what is going on within the novel, helping keep readers guessing at how everything will shake out.  Hidden Pictures is a page turn that many readers will tear through.  

Mallory is an easy to root for character in terms of protecting a child, keeping her own life together, and maybe even finding love.

Unfortunately, the ending of the book is a little bit weaker as Mallory must fall into some standard horror cliches in order to set up some final drama, and the final reveal does take a little suspension of disbelief, even for a novel that involves the supernatural.

Hidden Pictures is a fantastic piece of horror that expertly sets a mood of unease and should hook readers quickly.

Upgrade by Blake Crouch – 3.5/5 Stars

Logan Ramsay’s life changes when he is surprisingly infected with an upgrade.  With a better mind and body, Logan must figure out what’s happening to him, the story behind this upgrade, and what it may mean for the future of humanity.  Must humanity engineer its better future or would it simply be making its own disaster?

Blake Crouch looks to explore humanity’s needs and weaknesses in this science fiction thriller.  What makes us human and what do humans need to save themselves from the future they’ve been building?  In some ways he succeeds and at other times the messages and conclusions feel a bit forced.  As a thriller with a strong hook, this novel works well.  The stakes are high (the fate of the human race) and the upgrade-premise allows for some exciting actions and set pieces.

Overall, this novel starts off strong with an intriguing premise, but weakens as it moves along.  What starts as a relatable character, a family man who must deal with the legacy left to him and the one he plans to leave behind, slowly becomes more and more removed from the audience.  In many ways this is by design in order to show how Logan’s upgrade has changed who he is, but removing his humanity also distances him from readers.  His story is still interesting but he becomes a less enjoyable read, who seems capable of human emotion and empathy when it better serves the plot/messages of the novel.

The novel also suffers as it tries to answer the question of what humans need to do to save themselves from the destructive path they are on.  It’s a tough question, so Crouch can’t be blamed for not being able to fully answer it, but still, he is the one who set himself up to answer the question.

Readers who have enjoyed Crouch’s other works or enjoy a good sci-fi thriller should find Upgrade a fun and worthwhile read.

The End of the World is Just the Beginning: Mapping the Collapse of Globalization by Peter Zeihan – 3.5/5 Stars

Zeihan explains how humanity reached its amazing structure of globalization and that time was never meant to last, already eroding away around us.  He predicts what decreased globalization and a fractured world ties will mean for people and how the world will fair due to these impacts.

The amount of work that has gone into this book is astounding. Zeihan clearly did a lot of research and leaned on the expertise of many to put together a dive into how the world became what it is today and where it is headed in the near future.  So many different aspects of our world are explored and explained: trade, shipping, food, weather impacts, communication, geography, war, etc.  Zeihan loads readers up on information and what it means.  This is a book that can easily change a person’s view of the world.

Zeihan approaches his work with a lot of confidence that his observations and predictions are the right ones.  Every once in a while he does provide a small disclaimer, such as how it would be foolish to try and predict weather impact decades out, but for the most part he shares his conclusions with conviction.  One can only hope that he’s made an error here or there, or the future does look a little bleak, especially for those outside of America.

Where the book struggles a bit is on how to best deliver everything Zeihan is trying to share.  With so much information, the book can feel a bit boring and repetitive for stretches.  Zeihan tries to spice it up with humor, but he seems to think he’s funnier than he is.  A lot of attempts at humor feel a bit forced or eye-rolling (and this comes for someone who definitely thinks he’s more funny than he is).

If you can handle the absurd amount of information and accept that you probably won’t be able to hold on to every fact that comes your way, this book is well worth checking out.  There is a lot here to help one learn about our world’s history and future, or at least how Zeihan’s research sees things unfolding.  Don’t expect this to be a super uplifting book, since it can be thick at points and its main premise is that our best times are behind us.

The Hive by Gregg Olsen – 4/5 Stars

A young reporter has been murdered and the case may be tied to not only a murder from twenty years prior but also the mysterious figure of Marnie Spellman.  Spellman, the ultimate queen bee, runs a secretive collective hoping to change the world for women, harnessing both inner and outer beauty.  The Hive are Marnie’s inner circle, each with secrets from the world and each other.  Can Detective Lindsay Jackman unravel this decades old case that may be touching the present, all while also dealing with grief of her own?

Olsen weaves a complex story, jumping back and forth through different characters’ histories and lives.  She manages the reveals and twists well, slowly leading readers through the mystery that all keeps tying back to Marnie Spellman.

Despite working with a large cast of characters, Olsen is able to give them all unique voices and motivations.  While not the only perspective character, Jackman takes on the role of protagonist as the lead detective on the case.  Jackman is used well as both a point of view character and as someone that readers should want to see succeed.

The Hive is able to keep a lot of its mystery and twists going into the end, but by the final chunk of the novel, the book does feel a little stretched out.  There is still plenty going on and characters still have revelation to make, but the novel could have been wrapped up a tad faster.  The actual ending is well executed though.

I would recommend The Hive for those who enjoy mysteries, female lead stories, stories that explore cults or secret societies, and for anyone looking for good character work.

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong – 2.5/5 Stars

Inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, These Violent Delights is the story of Roma Montagov and Juliette Cai, the heirs to feuding gangs in 1920s Shanghai.  Separated by family and past betrayal, Roma and Juliette must learn to work together, at least long enough to save Shanghai from a madness that is spreading and killing people from both sides of their family war.  If they can’t resolve their differences, there may be no city left for either of them.

This is a very unique take on Romeo and Juliet.  The bones of this story are based on the old play, but Gong makes everything else her own.  The introduction of madness and monsters, the threat of communist and foreign influences, and the expanded lives and roles of supporting casts make this a very different story.  

As much as I wanted to like this book though, it did fail to hook me and felt like a bit of a slog to get through.  Characters often felt cut from the same fabric: anger with a side of attack now, talk later.  The pace also felt a bit drawn out.  

I appreciate the distinct and original take on Romeo and Juliet, but These Violent Delights doesn’t do enough to raise itself to the level of what it’s following.

Comics Read:

  • Amazing Spider-Man vol. 1 – World Without Love by Zeb Wells
  • Amazing Spider-Man vol. 2 – The New Sinister by Zeb Wells
  • Avengers vol. 10 – The Death Hunters by Jason Aaron
  • Fantastic Four: Life Story by Mark Russell
  • Miles Morales vol. 7 – Beyond by Saladin Ahmed

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