My very favorite Bossy December reads!
I hope every Bossy reader who celebrates had a wonderful Christmas this week! I scheduled a little Bossy break from posting until today so I could have lots of family time, but instead, I got the worst Christmas gift: the flu. I'm just starting to feel like myself again--and to feel like reading again. After the 2023 Thanksgiving Stomach Bug Debacle, I'm ready for a healthy and fun New Year's and 2024!
Anyway, here are the six books I most loved reading this past month: a heartbreaking, lovely, epistolary Western; a fantasy story with war at the forefront and fantasy in the background; a collection of three short stories by a favorite author; a vulnerable celebrity memoir; the latest loooong installment in a favorite mystery series; and a cozy fantasy story--and love letter to coffee.
If you've read any of these titles, I'd love to hear what you think! I hope you've stayed healthy and had a happy break!
And I'd also love to hear: what are some of your recent favorite reads?
01 The Madstone by Elizabeth Crook
The Madstone begins as an against-the-odds attempt to evade evil and develops into a beautiful heartbreaker of a story about duty, family, and love in Civil War-era Texas.
I will tell you, if there is a thing harder than facing danger, it's knowing it's headed your way.
It's 1868 in Texas, and a stagecoach that's off track and in trouble (with a fortune tucked away inside) turns out to also hold unexpected passengers: pregnant Nell and her four-year-old son, Tot, who are fleeing from Nell's abusive husband and his vindictive, terrifying "Swamp Fox" family.
When nineteen-year-old orphan and frontier carpenter Benjamin Shreve encounters Nell, he determines to shepherd her and Tot to safety. But their trip to the Gulf of Mexico is fraught with danger--and Nell's husband and his murderous brothers may be hot on their tail.
The book is fully epistolary, as the story is told in a book-long letter from Benjamin to Tot. It started off a little slowly for me because Benjamin shared so many details of thoughts and in setting the scene, but I ended up loving the delivery of the story as Benjamin shares understated, thoughtful reflections and begins to express burgeoning emotions and vulnerability.
I loved the Old West setting, the relationships, the unlikely allies, the high threat level, the danger and chases, the few quiet moments--all of this.
If you're interested in this book, you might also like the titles on my Greedy Reading List Six Great Historical Fiction Stories Set in the American West and Six More Great Historical Fiction Stories Set in the American West.
For my full review of this book, please see The Madstone.
02 Divine Rivals (Letters of Enchantment #1) by Rebecca Ross
I liked Divine Rivals and the gutsy characters facing wartime struggles and challenges, but I was surprised that the book's fantasy elements felt so fully in the background.
In Divine Rivals, Iris and Roman, two journalists, are competing for a permanent position as a newspaper columnist. The two are constantly at odds with each other, and each has erected emotional armor around a devastating loss.
Iris's beloved brother is missing in action in the war among the gods, and sending letters through a magical wardrobe is the only way she can reach him.
But the person receiving these missives is not Forest, but Iris's work nemesis, Roman. He keeps his knowledge secret, yet becomes more and more drawn to Iris.
I really liked this, but I was surprised by how light it felt on fantasy elements. The gods' war provides the structure for the book's main conflict, but the story feels primarily focused on everyday, regular-human wartime concerns--with an unlikely-feeling god-war and magical letter-sending method mixed in.
Click here for my full review of Divine Rivals.
03 So Late in the Day: Stories of Women and Men by Claire Keegan
Claire Keegan is one of my favorite writers; in these three stories, she builds layered situations--and then turns them on their heads, in fascinating fashion.
Down on the lawns, some people were out sunbathing and there were children, and beds plump with flowers; so much of life carrying smoothly on, despite the tangle of human upsets and the knowledge of how everything must end.
In the brilliant, Irish-born Claire Keegan's newest slim story collection, she explores gender dynamics and defied expectations, and she considers what might be or might have been between the sexes.
Three disparate stories showcase Keegan's perfectly spare, captivating storytelling; her writing feels to me like long-form poetry in its striking, unexpected, yet precise language and its evocative power.
Each of Keegan's three stories builds a layered situation and then turns it on its head; a wisp of a moment, a careless remark, or a premeditated change sets the course of a day or a life on a dramatically different trajectory, and it's fascinating to read as various unravelings begin and build momentum.
Click here for my full review of So Late in the Day.
04 The Woman in Me by Britney Spears
Spears's slim memoir offers vulnerability, the shocking details of her now-infamous 13-year conservatorship, self-reflection, and her view of the future.
"...this industry… I can see now that you have to be smart enough, vicious enough, deliberate enough to play the game, and I did not know the game."
In her memoir The Woman in Me, Britney Spears offers the story of her life to date: select events of her youth, complicated family dynamics, the growth of her explosive fame--and the shocking loss of freedom and rights she suffered for years while her parents abused their control over her person, her estate, her finances, and her business decisions in the now-infamous conservatorship that lasted over 13 years.
The tone feels carefully crafted, and the book reveals disturbing, ongoing abuse and frightening misuse of power while positioning Britney as a strong young woman with regret--but without expressed bitterness--about the intensely dark turn her life took for over a decade.
This is a slim book, but in The Woman in Me, Spears opens up and feels vulnerable, shares her perspectives on matters you likely remember from the tabloids, and considers the possibilities of her future in a thoughtful way.
I listened to this title as an audiobook, which was read wonderfully by Michelle Williams.
Please click here for my full review of The Woman in Me.
05 The Running Grave (Cormoran Strike #7) by Robert Galbraith
In what's possibly my favorite book yet of the seven in the Cormoran Strike series, we see some emotional growth, potentially game-changing revelations and resolutions, and a fascinating plot that revolves around taking down a cult from the inside.
"It’s dangerous to make a cult of your own unhappiness. Hard to get out, once you’ve been in there too long. You forget how."
In the newest doorstop of a series installment (960 pages; the audiobook is 34 hours and 14 minutes), Cormoran Strike is cursorily on a health kick, he and Robin remain drawn to each other but continue to keep up emotional barriers to a deeper connection, and the agency is focused on trying to take down the fictional religious cult Universal Humanitarian Church (UHC)--from the inside.
It's satisfying that Robin gets the majority of page time as she bravely infiltrates the UHC and works to uncover the truth of rumored brainwashing, cruel punishments, sexual abuse, and suspicious deaths.
Strike hasn't magically matured emotionally, but he does become somewhat more thoughtful and deliberate in his life choices as the book progresses, ultimately (briefly) showing a potentially game-changing vulnerability that I loved.
I found the witness and suspect interviews and Strike and Robin's methods of extracting information particularly interesting. The side plot of a rival detective agency and the links between the UHC and Strike's personal past were intriguing.
06 Legends & Lattes (Legends & Lattes #1) by Travis Baldree
The first in the Legends & Lattes series is a cozy fantasy story about new beginnings, the transformative power of coffee, and vulnerability and unexpected love.
After twenty-two years of adventuring, Viv had reached her limit of blood and mud and bullshit. An orc’s life was strength and violence and a sudden, sharp end—but she’d be damned if she’d let hers finish that way. It was time for something new.
I've had this book on my list for ages, and recently both my friend Jamie and my nephew Jamie sang its praises, so I finally listened to Legends & Lattes.
Viv has spent years hunting down creatures for bounties, wielding her sword, and doing anything ruthless needed to bag her prey.
But Viv has discovered the wonder of coffee and has determined to make a new start: she's headed to the city of Thune to settle down and open its first coffee shop.
This is a sweet, cozy fantasy story that feels like a big hug; it's a love letter to coffee, to the beauty of diversity, to unexpected and special connections, and to the joy and satisfaction in a settled life surrounded by loyal friends and found family.
For my full review, please see Legends & Lattes.