January 2024 Reading Wrap-Up: Part 2

Welcome, book friends!

If you’d prefer to listen to these reviews, you can check out the full episode on The Bookmarks ‘n Blankets Podcast on your favorite podcast platform or listen below.

I’d love to know your thoughts on any of these books if you’ve read them. I invite you to hop over to my Instagram or X (aka Twitter), where you can comment.


Here are all the rest of the books that I read last month. I have four 5-star books in this small stack.

Mystery & Thrillers

The Heiress by Rachel Hawkins

Format: Digital eBook
My GR Rating: 5 – My Favorite Book of the Month
Learn more here.

GR Description: When Ruby McTavish Callahan Woodward Miller Kenmore dies, she’s not only North Carolina’s richest woman, she’s also its most notorious. The victim of a famous kidnapping as a child and a widow four times over, Ruby ruled the tiny town of Tavistock from Ashby House, her family’s estate high in the Blue Ridge mountains. In the aftermath of her death, that estate—along with a nine-figure fortune and the complicated legacy of being a McTavish—passed to her adopted son, Camden.

But to everyone’s surprise, Cam wants little to do with the house or the money—and even less to do with the surviving McTavishes. Instead, he rejects his inheritance, settling into a normal life as an English teacher in Colorado and marrying Jules, a woman just as eager to escape her own messy past.

Ten years later, Camden is a McTavish in name only, but a summons in the wake of his uncle’s death brings him and Jules back into the family fold at Ashby House. Its views are just as stunning as ever, its rooms just as elegant, but coming home reminds Cam why he was so quick to leave in the first place.

Jules, however, has other ideas, and the more she learns about Cam’s estranged family—and the twisted secrets they keep—the more determined she is for her husband to claim everything Ruby once intended for him to have.

But Ruby’s plans were always more complicated than they appeared. As Ashby House tightens its grip on Jules and Camden, questions about the infamous heiress come to light. Was there any truth to the persistent rumors following her disappearance as a girl? What really happened to those four husbands, who all died under mysterious circumstances? And why did she adopt Cam in the first place? Soon, Jules and Cam realize that an inheritance can entail far more than what’s written in a will—and that the bonds of family stretch far beyond the grave.

My Review:

Wow, where do I begin? I loved this story! This was my first book by this author, and now I’m excited to read more by her, though I have seen mixed reviews on her other novels. But I’m curious enough to check them out and decide for myself.

I love mystery/thrillers where rich people behave badly, have lots of family drama and deep family secrets, and stories that keep me guessing the entire time. This one hit the jackpot in all of those areas! There is so much betrayal, deceit, lies, and secrets. I devoured this book!

I also loved the setting in North Carolina. I really enjoy thrillers that take place in a mansion or large estate, especially if it’s remote or secluded, which this one, Ashby House, is, built in the Appalachian mountains. Set in a thick, dense forest area, it almost felt suffocating and very isolating, which offered more of a creepy, eerie feeling. Then, I loved the description of the inside of the mansion. It was enough details to be fully immersed in this house but not too much where I was bored reading about how each room looked and felt to the characters. I also got gothic vibes from this one, and loved it!

This story has dual POVs from Camden, the adopted son, and his wife, Jules. I loved getting to know each of these characters. Cam is reluctant to go home (and for good reason), but it’s obvious he knows things but doesn’t tell us until the end. Then, Jules was a fun character because she was sassy, snarky, and quick-witted. I found her very enjoyable and funny. She brought some humor and tenderness to this dark story. But she’s also keeping secrets. So both characters really intrigued me with the knowledge that they knew but kept hidden from their spouse.

This story is also told through newspaper articles, letters, and other forms of media, which I thought was clever storytelling. The mystery had me completely absorbed and turning the pages to find out what was going to happen next. This is a very addicting book! It was nice that the chapters were short too. It’s past and present timelines, which I also enjoyed.

One thing that I didn’t care for was all the language. There is a ton of cursing in this book. In some instances, it was okay to use for emphasis and to drive home a big point, but I thought the crass language was too much and overly abundant. It could’ve cut most of those unnecessary words out and just used a couple where it felt appropriate.

But overall, I had a really great time! There is SO much tension, drama, and family dysfunction – and I loved it!! If you’re searching for a gripping, engaging, super twisty, and bingeable mystery/thriller, you should try this one. Highly recommend!!

The Fury by Alex Michaelides

Format: Digital eBook
My GR Rating: 5
Learn more here.

GR Description: This is a tale of murder.

Or maybe that’s not quite true. At its heart, it’s a love story, isn’t it?

Lana Farrar is a reclusive ex–movie star and one of the most famous women in the world. Every year, she invites her closest friends to escape the English weather and spend Easter on her idyllic private Greek island.

I tell you this because you may think you know this story. You probably read about it at the time ― it caused a real stir in the tabloids if you remember. It had all the necessary ingredients for a press a celebrity; a private island cut off by the wind…and a murder.

We found ourselves trapped there overnight. Our old friendships concealed hatred and a desire for revenge. What followed was a game of cat and mouse ― a battle of wits, full of twists and turns, building to an unforgettable climax. The night ended in violence and death, as one of us was found murdered.

But who am I?

My name is Elliot Chase, and I’m going to tell you a story unlike any you’ve ever heard.

My Review:

I absolutely devoured this book!! I loved it so much!! It was my first five-star read of 2024, and my second book by this author. He has solidified himself as a favorite mystery/thriller author of mine, and an auto-buy author now. His stories are so clever and intelligent. This one was no exception. I actually enjoyed it more than The Silent Patient. I also appreciated the Easter eggs and nods to his other story. That was a fun surprise.

What a wild, twisty, and entertaining ride we go on with this book. I loved every moment and never got bored. I thought the pacing was on point. It also helped that the chapters were short and easy to get through. It was hard to put this book down once I got into it.

I also loved the perspective that it’s told from, Elliot Chase, one of the characters that experienced the story and now he’s breaking the fourth wall and talking to the reader like you’re having a drink with him in a bar. It’s such a unique take on the story that will keep you guessing until the very end.

I had a great time with this murder mystery. There were a few elements that I had figured out, but it didn’t play out the way I thought, so I was surprised after every reveal, and there are quite a few. It was twist after twist after twist, which was a lot of fun. Momentarily, I had whiplash from all the surprises, but I loved it and was so enthralled by this story. I also liked how we would see the same scene play out but from different character’s perspectives. It allowed the reader to interpret the unfolding of the story in various ways, which was highly entertaining and interesting. There are a few suspenseful scenes but this leans more on the mystery than the thriller side of the genre.

One thing that I love about this author’s writing is how psychological and deep it can be at times. There are so many great quotes in this story. I read this as an ARC ebook from NetGalley, but now I want to get a physical copy so I can reread it and annotate everything. I loved getting to know all the characters. It’s beautifully written with so much character development and depth, and detailed descriptions that immerse you into this dramatic world. The book is split up into five acts, so it feels like a play at times. For me, it played out like a movie in my head. It was so easy to visualize everything.

I had the BEST time reading this book!! It’s just the beginning of the year, and this is already going to be in my top ten list of 2024! Highly, highly recommend it!!

Historical Western Romance

To the Wild Horizon by Imogen Martin

Format: Digital eBook
My GR Rating: 4
Learn more here.

GR Description: Missouri, 1846: In the frontier town of Independence the sound of a gunshot shatters the night. As the pistol drops from her hand and clatters to the ground, Grace knows she has no choice but to leave. Now.

In this inspiring and deeply moving story of love, courage, and endurance, a young woman on the run from the law sets off on a desperate journey of survival on the treacherous Oregon Trail.

Terrified she’s wanted for the murder of her landlord, Grace is certain that, even though she acted in self-defense, no one will believe her. Quickly packing the few belongings she and her little brother Tom possess, they race to join the line of dusty wagons preparing to leave for Oregon.

As they set off, over the perilous Great Plains, knowing the wild rivers and the Rocky Mountains they must cross, Grace vows to do whatever it takes to protect Tom and get them both to safety. She will prove herself capable of surviving the hardest journey of her life.

My Review:

I loved the author’s debut novel, Under a Gilded Sky, so I was excited to pick up her second book, which did not disappoint. I’ll admit that I liked the first book better, but this one was still highly enjoyable.

I’ve been exploring more Western novels, so this was my first time being part of a wagon train on a pioneer trail heading west to Oregon in the mid-nineteenth century. I loved the setting and all the locations that were included in this story. You could tell the author did her research because there were so many detailed descriptions that immersed you in this world. I loved reading about the culture back then, how things were done, and how people lived. I felt completely transported back in time and felt like I was part of this caravan of settlers.

There were some parts that slowed down a bit for me, but I was never bored. For the most part, I thought the pacing was great. I was very interested to know what was going to happen next. There were even a few suspenseful action sequences that helped keep me entertained. I wished there were a few more of these types of action scenes though.

I really liked both main characters. Grace is a strong-willed, resourceful, clever, and independent woman. But she has a kind, compassionate heart that wants to help people when they are in distress. She’s easy to love and root for because she cares so much about others. Then, Captain Randolph is a gruff, brooding, stern, and disciplined man who takes his job very seriously and relies on order and structure. But then, his world is turned upside down when he meets Grace. She softens him and melts his cold heart that he’s tucked away for so long. It took a few chapters to like his character, but the further I got into the story, the more he grew on me, and then I became very fond of him.

I enjoyed watching their romance develop; however, the pacing was a little off for me. It started out a slow burn, but then suddenly, they were madly in love with each other. It felt like we went from 0 to 100, and it felt jarring. I understand that this trip took many months and things happened off-page, but from what we read and the scenes we get of them together, it felt a bit rushed and out of place. I also didn’t care for the steamier parts. I prefer clean, closed-door romances, like her first book, so I was surprised to see a little bit of spice in this book. It’s not a lot, but it’s more than I felt comfortable reading. But overall, I enjoyed Grace and Randolph as a couple and rooted for them until the end.

I also didn’t care for the parts of the story that centered around the rape of one of the pioneer women on the train. It happens off-page, so there aren’t any explicit details about it, but it was uncomfortable to read about. Then, there is an on-page attempted rape scene that could be a trigger for some readers. Also know that due to this time period, there is a good amount of sexism and misogyny from the men toward the women.

Overall, I really enjoyed this story, getting to know the characters, and going on this adventure out West with them. I loved the romance and watching the couple come together. The details of this historical story felt realistic, believable, and vivid, so it was easy to visualize. I liked watching women break stereotypes of this time period. Definitely recommend!

Middle Grade Magical Realism

Olivetti by Allie Millington

Format: Digital eBook
Publication Date: March 26, 2024
My GR Rating: 5
Learn more here.

GR Description: Being a typewriter is not as easy as it looks. Surrounded by books (notorious attention hogs) and recently replaced by a computer, Olivetti has been forgotten by the Brindle family—the family he’s lived with for years. The Brindles are busy humans, apart from 12-year-old Ernest, who would rather be left alone with his collection of Oxford English Dictionaries. The least they could do was remember Olivetti once in a while since he remembers every word they’ve typed on him. It’s a thankless job, keeping memories alive.

Olivetti gets a rare glimpse of action from Ernest’s mom, Beatrice–his used-to-be most frequent visitor—only for her to drop him off at Heartland Pawn Shop and leave him helplessly behind. When Olivetti learns Beatrice has mysteriously gone missing afterward, he believes he can help find her. He breaks the only rule of the “typewriterly code” and types back to Ernest, divulging Beatrice’s memories stored inside him.

Their search takes them across San Francisco—chasing clues, maybe committing a few misdemeanors. As Olivetti spills out the past, Ernest is forced to face what he and his family have been running from, The Everything That Happened. Only by working together will they find Beatrice, belonging, and the parts of themselves they’ve lost.

My Review:

This was such a powerful, touching, and heartfelt middle grade book. The big overall topic hit extremely close to home for me, so it was very emotional at times and hard to read. But it covered so many difficult themes and emotions in such a beautiful, sensitive, and engaging way. I won’t spoil anything, but I’ve been through “The Everything That Happened” scenario, and it was one of the hardest times of my life. It also happened to my mom and I was only 16 at the time. We weren’t as lucky, and we went from a family of five down to four. So I could relate and connect to Ernest and his family on a deeper level than most readers who haven’t been through that kind of ordeal. Definitely keep the tissue box handy because you may need it; I did! I was sobbing at the end!

I loved the creativity of this story. Making an inanimate object come to life and feel are some of my favorite stories. I adored Olivetti. He’s sassy, snarky, and witty, but also sensitive, curious, and generous. He just wanted to be loved and cared for. His fondness for the Brindle family was so endearing. The way he cared about them and wanted to help find Beatrice, the mother, was incredibly heartwarming. He made me laugh so many times with his observations of humans, almost like he was an alien watching and noticing how we act and behave. It offered a unique perspective for the reader to take a step back and also observe how we act and behave, which allowed me to reflect on my own behaviors, thoughts, and emotions. I also enjoyed learning about this world Olivetti lived in, how he communicated with other typewriters, and the rules they had to follow. I had such a great time reading about Olivetti’s story and the adventure he went on. The magical realism parts with the typewriter were thoroughly entertaining. I appreciated how this story highlighted a long-forgotten piece of equipment that most young people today probably don’t know much about or even know what it is. Ha!

The family that we’re introduced to was going through a lot. There were four children and then the parents, and each person was experiencing their own pain and torment of emotions from dealing with this traumatic situation. I loved watching the development of this family. At first, they were all isolated and kept to themselves. But then slowly, throughout the unfolding of the story, they were brought together to face this challenge as one, and they realized they were stronger together and had to go through the difficult time as a group instead of individually. I enjoyed watching them come together as a whole unit, open up to each other, and allow others to help them through all the overwhelming emotions they were dealing with. It was incredibly moving and sentimental.

The mystery of finding the mother was also very interesting and captivating. I kept wanting to know what happened to her. I also liked the introduction of Quinn, who becomes Ernest’s new friend. She’s spunky, outspoken, resourceful, clever, independent, and a little bossy. She’s the exact opposite of Ernest. It felt like they balanced each other out perfectly, and she was exactly what he (and his family) needed. I enjoyed watching their friendship develop. At first, she annoyed me, but then her sweetness came out in her own way.

I also liked the nod to the book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. There were some other pop culture references that I enjoyed as well.

Life is messy and difficult, and we don’t always know how to deal with our thoughts, feelings, and emotions – not even adults. Many of us just want to run away or hide from challenging events in our lives, but it’s when we face them head-on that we grow, become stronger and more resilient, and learn more about ourselves. There’s no walking around the “fire,” you must walk through it. This story shows us what can happen when you face the “fire” and walk through it, especially with your family and loved ones. It’s real, honest, and raw as it shows us the power of family and friends, being vulnerable, and facing your fears. Very powerful!

This story takes you on an emotional rollercoaster – you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll be curious. It has heartbreak in it, but it’s also full of hope and love. I absolutely loved it and was quite surprised by how much it affected me and captured my heart. Highly recommend!!

For a debut author, I’m impressed and excited to read more from her in the future!

Children’s Picture Books

Meatballs for Grandpa by Jeanette Fazzari Jones (Author) and Jaclyn Sinquett (Illustrator)

Format: Digital eBook
Publication Date: March 12, 2024
My GR Rating: 5
Learn more here.

GR Description: In this sensory-rich picture book, a little girl and her grandparents make the family’s traditional spaghetti and meatballs recipe together―and hope to jog Grandpa’s fading memory. For Felicia, the days spent making meatballs for Grandpa are some of the best ever! Grandpa no longer remembers much, but he loves to help cook. Grandma and Felicia know just what to do so that they’ll get the perfect sizzle , tang, and magic in their mouths. But Felicia also knows that cooking together makes more than a meal―sometimes it even helps Grandpa remember. Together they get their hands dirty and make the savory meal of spaghetti and meatballs in the family’s Italian tradition. And then, they mangia! Woven with vibrant sounds, smells, and flavors, this is a heartwarming story about food, family, and heritage. A glossary of Italian words and a recipe for tomato sauce and meatballs are included.

My Review:

I loved this cute, sentimental picture book about a little girl who cooks spaghetti and meatballs with her grandparents. Her grandfather suffers from Alzheimer’s and his memory continues to fade, but her grandmother encourages the girl to help cook because tastes and smells will help him remember. It’s so touching and heartwarming. It even made me a little teary-eyed.

I loved the illustrations. They were beautiful to look at and really helped to tell the story. The artwork reminded me of picture books from back when I was little. It’s very colorful and animated with their different emotions.

I also thought it was helpful to have a glossary of Italian words at the beginning that were used in the story. Then, at the end, some recipes are included with the author’s note, which was very sweet to read. Highly recommend!!

Daisy T-Rex is Dyslexic by Sarah Moore

Format: Digital eBook
Publication Date: March 12, 2024
My GR Rating: 4
Learn more here.

GR Description: Daisy T-Rex loves art, math, and science, but when it comes to reading and spelling, she is puzzled.

Why do words squiggle? Why are the sounds so hard to match to letters? Daisy, it turns out, has dyslexia. In this thoughtful tale, author Sarah Moore shows how to harness the complexities of dyslexia through encouragement and empowerment.

A whimsical yet poignant picture book, Daisy T-Rex Is Dyslexic explores the learning challenges endured by a spunky first-grade dinosaur and shares her rise above uncertainty through friendship, honesty, and perseverance.

My Review:

I chose to read this book because one of my nieces was just diagnosed with dyslexia, so I wanted to learn more about it and have a possible reading suggestion for her when it comes out. I thought it was very informative and helped me understand what people go through with dyslexia. I also liked how educational it is without feeling preachy.

I also liked the positive messages it conveys in a fun, adorable way. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and it helps kids learn how to work with adversity. The story also focuses on other strengths that someone with this condition might have and can develop over time. It also talks about how dyslexia can be generational, which I didn’t know. I think the reading strategies given to the main character are great real-life suggestions.

The illustrations were really cute. I liked the bright colors and artwork. However, it was a bit text-heavy on many pages. I would’ve liked to see more artwork and less content.

Overall, this was a sweet, educational picture book that offered helpful reading tips, encouraging messages, and a way for children with dyslexia to gain more confidence in themselves. Definitely recommend!

The Sunny Day Squad: The Quest for the Caringstone by Michael Panzner

Format: Digital eBook
My GR Rating: 4
Learn more here.

GR Description: Making the world a brighter place.

Join The Sunny Day Squad – Ollie the monkey, Poppy the puppy, Daisy the rabbit, and Ted the horse – on a heroic journey from Gaggle Grove to find the fabled Caringstone, a magical gem that can make the saddest child smile. Using their unique talents, the four friends work together to overcome obstacles, solve problems, and spread joy. This heartwarming tale celebrates the power of friendship, bravery, and perseverance—a perfect story for bedtime…or anytime!

My Review:

This is a sweet, tender story about friends working together to overcome challenges and spread kindness and happiness. It has positive messages for little kids to learn through a fun adventure. I liked how each character used their strengths to conquer their challenges. They were very resourceful and clever. They figured out the solutions to problems so that they could continue their quest.

However, I would’ve liked to see the story include some unique elements to help it stand out more in a saturated market. There are also a few continuity issues, it’s a little text-heavy on some pages, and some words may be too advanced for the age group this is written for. There were also some pages where the images and text didn’t seem to match. Also, the illustrations are cute, but not my favorite artwork. They were a bit basic without many details. They could use a bit more polish to be more visually appealing. But I did enjoy the bright colors and the cute smiley-faced sun and flowers.

But overall, I think children will enjoy this book, especially if they like animals in stories and characters with silly names. It’s an adorable quick read for bedtime to learn more about caring and generosity. Definitely recommend!

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