November 2023 Reading Wrap-Up – Fiction & Non-Fiction Books

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.

Also, since the holiday shopping season is here, you may be planning on buying some books for your friends and loved ones. Book Outlet is a heavily discounted online bookstore, and if you use my link HERE, for your FIRST order, you’ll get $5 off when you purchase $25 or more.


If you’ve listened to my previous TBR and wrap-up episodes, then you heard me talk about some struggles I’m having with fatigue and burnout. Well, it all finally caught up to me in November, and I hit a wall. I know from past experiences, there is no breaking through this wall or hopping over it. I have to pause and take a break. That’s why it’s there and that’s what it’s telling me to do. So I listened.

I listened to my body in November, so I didn’t get to as many books as I wanted to, which frustrates me, but I’m also very proud of myself for putting my health and rest ahead of my trivial bookish desires. Because let’s be honest, not getting to books in a certain time period is not life or death. It’s not really that important at all. It’s just a mental want but not a necessity. So what if I have to push a majority of my highly anticipated reads to next year?! I have to be protective of my energy levels, be mindful of my mental state, and take care of my body. So I listened, and it said to rest, to relax, and not to try so hard. So I did, and I feel much better for listening.

But, with that said, I still got in some really great books. I was able to participate in Non-Fiction November. I got some ARCs done for NetGalley. I did get to some new releases that had been on my radar. And, I even got some graphic novels and a few picture books in. I had a nice wide variety of books. Overall, it was a good, solid, and enjoyable reading month. I took the pressure off myself, and was able to delight in the pleasures of reading physical or digital books and listening to audiobooks. It’s all about priorities.

As for my buddy reading with my best friend, I have decided to soft DNF The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E Harrow for now. I really tried to push through and it just was not keeping my attention. There were SO many other books that I wanted to read in front of it. So I gave up for now, but I’m going to try the audiobook early next year. I’m on the wait list at my library. It’s saying about 7 weeks, so maybe by the end of January, I’ll be able to get to it again, and hopefully, the audiobook will get me into it more. I’m willing to get it another shot in a different format.

Anyhoo, so I didn’t read that buddy read; however, my friend and I are going to buddy read Tress of the Emerald Sea by Brandon Sanderson this month because she just got it from her library. There was a pretty long wait but it just arrived, so I’m really excited to dive in and read my first Brandon Sanderson book. I’ve had this book sitting on my kitchen table for a couple of months now, and I know it’s up for a GoodReads Choice Award, so I’m ready to get to it.

November Reading Wrap-Up

These books are listed from my least favorite to my most favorite of the month.

Fiction Books:

Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher

My GR Rating: 3 (2.5)
Format: Audiobook – Narrator: Amara Jasper
Genre: Cozy Fantasy | Fairytale Fantasy
Buy on Amazon here.

GR Description: This isn’t the kind of fairytale where the princess marries a prince.

It’s the one where she kills him.

Marra never wanted to be a hero.

As the shy, convent-raised, third-born daughter, she escaped the traditional fate of princesses, to be married away for the sake of an uncaring throne. But her sister wasn’t so fortunate—and after years of silence, Marra is done watching her suffer at the hands of a powerful and abusive prince.

Seeking help for her rescue mission, Marra is offered the tools she needs, but only if she can complete three seemingly impossible tasks:

  • build a dog of bones
  • sew a cloak of nettles
  • capture moonlight in a jar

But, as is the way in tales of princes and witches, doing the impossible is only the beginning.

Hero or not—now joined by a disgraced ex-knight, a reluctant fairy godmother, an enigmatic gravewitch and her fowl familiar—Marra might finally have the courage to save her sister, and topple a throne.

My Brief Review: Wow, I really don’t understand the hype around this book. It was extremely boring for a fantasy story. I had a hard time sticking with it. I listened to the audiobook, and the narrator did a great job, but I increased the speed to just get through it faster. If I had been reading the physical book, I probably would’ve DNF’d it.

In October, I tried to read T. Kingfisher’s new book, A House with Good Bones, and DNF’d it at 40% because I wasn’t liking it at all. But I’ve heard many good things about this author, so I wanted to give her another chance and chose to read her most popular book. But, it’s not looking good for her. She just may not be the author for me. I will try one more, but if I don’t like that one, then it’ll be “three strikes you’re out” for me.  

I feel like there was so much potential for this story, but it came up short for me. It was pretty boring for the majority of it. There needed to be a lot more action sequences. There were very interesting concepts and characters, but nothing was really done with any of it. It felt like a lot was left on the “drawing board.” I was missing more exposition and character development. The romance felt incredibly forced. Ultimately, I just didn’t care about any of the characters. 

However, it did feel like a classic, dark (almost gothic) fairytale. It was very atmospheric, creepy, and unsettling at times. The writing was descriptive and immersive, but it felt like a bunch of lush fluff without much substance. It was really underdeveloped and lacked any depth for me. 

I would not recommend this book and advise anyone to skip it.

The Simplicity of Cider by Amy E. Reichert

My GR Rating: 4
Format: Audiobook – Narrator: Rachel Dulude
Genre: Contemporary | Modern Romance
Buy on Amazon here.

GR Description: Focused and unassuming fifth-generation cider-maker Sanna Lund has one desire: to live a simple, quiet life on her family’s apple orchard in Door County, Wisconsin. Although her business is struggling, Sanna remains fiercely devoted to the orchard, despite her brother’s attempts to convince their aging father to sell the land.

Single dad Isaac Banks has spent years trying to shield his son Sebastian from his troubled mother. Fleeing heartbreak at home, Isaac packed up their lives and the two headed out on an adventure, driving across the country. Chance—or fate—led them straight to Sanna’s orchard.

Isaac’s helping hands are much appreciated at the apple farm, even more when Sanna’s father is injured in an accident. As Sanna’s formerly simple life becomes increasingly complicated, she finds solace in unexpected places—friendship with young Sebastian and something more deliciously complex with Isaac—until an outside threat infiltrates the farm.

My Brief Review: This was my first book by this author, and I really enjoyed it. It’s a contemporary fiction mixed with romance. It felt very warm and cozy. It was an easy read that I got through pretty quickly. 

I really enjoyed getting to know this family who owns an apple orchid. I loved learning about life on the orchid and how things were done. You could tell the author did her homework and research, which I appreciated. Her writing was detailed and descriptive, which helped to immerse me into their world. I also appreciated that it’s a clean romance, with no spice, and I can’t remember any language in it either. It felt a little like a Hallmark romance movie, but not in a cheesy way, though it is predictable but I still had a really good time. 

I liked all of the characters and learning about them, though I wish we went a little deeper with both of the main characters, Sanna and Isaac. We get a little backstory, but I wanted more. I felt the same way about the character development; we get a little but I wanted more. 

However, I loved how Sanna fell in love with both Isaac and his son, Bass. She began to open up to both of them and let them in, which warmed my heart. They were exactly what she needed in her life and vice versa. It’s a slow-burn romance, but I loved the pining and flirting as part of the buildup and sexual tension that you could feel between them. It made the payoff toward the end more rewarding. Bass also cracked me up. He had some nice comical relief moments. 

I was also pleasantly surprised at how much drama was involved in this story. I thought it might be boring, but things were happening, and I kept wanting to know what was going to happen next. I was fully invested and cared about everyone. There is a lot that went on, and it had some nice twists, highs, and lows. 

It was really well-written and made me tear up a few times. It was very sweet, touching, and had a satisfying ending. I think this could be a great book to pick up if you’re in a reading slump. It’s also a great seasonal book to read in the fall. It definitely made me want some apple cider while listening to it. It also includes a recipe for caramel apple bread pudding, which sounded divine. 

Definitely recommend!

Bookshops & Bonedust by Travis Baldree

My GR Rating: 4
Format: Paperback
Genre: Cozy Fantasy
Buy on Amazon here.

GR Description: Viv’s career with the notorious mercenary company Rackam’s Ravens isn’t going as planned.

Wounded during the hunt for a powerful necromancer, she’s packed off against her will to recuperate in the sleepy beach town of Murk—so far from the action that she worries she’ll never be able to return to it.

What’s a thwarted soldier of fortune to do?

Spending her hours at a beleaguered bookshop in the company of its foul-mouthed proprietor is the last thing Viv would have predicted, but it may be both exactly what she needs and the seed of changes she couldn’t possibly imagine.

Still, adventure isn’t all that far away. A suspicious traveler in gray, a gnome with a chip on her shoulder, a summer fling, and an improbable number of skeletons prove Murk to be more eventful than Viv could have ever expected.

My Brief Review: This is the prequel to Legends & Lattes (L&L), which I read earlier this year in March. It was my very first cozy fantasy. I gave it four stars on GoodReads, but said it was more like a 3.5; however, this one, for me, was a solid four stars. I will say that this book could be read as a standalone if you haven’t read the first one. There are a few things that are explained in this prequel that you wouldn’t catch until you read L&L, but it’s not something you would miss. And if you haven’t read either, I think you could read the prequel first and then the original if you wanted to read in order based on timeline. However, the epilogue in the prequel is set a few years after L&L, which could ruin it a little bit for you, so if you read the prequel first, then skip the epilogue until you read L&L, then go back and read it, which totally sets up what could be book three. I think I saw somewhere that Travis Baldree plans to write four or five of these books in this series. 

I really enjoyed this story. I liked it a tiny bit more than L&L. It’s very cozy, endearing, and funny. It’s a light-hearted read that gives all the warm feels. If you like books and bookstores, then you will absolutely love this book. I loved being in the bookstore and seeing the business and marketing side of it. This business kept my attention more than the coffee shop did in the first book. 

I also enjoyed the characters in this book more than in the first one. I thought they were funnier, more interesting, and more likable. Like in the first book, I enjoyed the found family element as this group of misfits came together. The banter is comical as well. There are quite a few quirky characters that are very sweet, endearing, and funny. I also liked how they were supportive and encouraging of each other, from life lessons to business ups and downs to romantic feelings. 

Speaking of romance, there is a bit more in this book between Viv and a dwarf who owns a bakery shop. They were really cute together. There was a lot of queer pining and flirting. It’s clean as far as no spicy scenes, just a few kissing scenes, which I appreciated. I prefer closed-door romances. I still think making a female orge a lesbian is stereotypical, boring, and bland, but it was a sweet summer fling. 

I thought the storyline was more interesting in this book. It was very easy to read and quick to get through. There is a bit of a mystery going on and some interesting things happen in this seaside town of Murk. There’s more action sequences, and it’s not as slow-paced as L&L. There was a lot more going on, which kept my attention. I also liked learning about this town, and we get more food descriptions, which is always a plus for me (a foodie)! 

However, since this is a younger Viv, we don’t see her maturity, like in L&L. She is a bit of a rebel, more careless, and quick to react before thinking. She makes more mistakes and poor choices, but we do see her grow as the story progresses. I wish we had gone a little deeper into her thoughts and motives. I also hoped to learn more about her, to get more of a fully fleshed character with deeper emotional growth and development, but we don’t. Everything is left on a shallow surface. I also wish we got more backstory on some of the characters, especially the villain of the story. If we knew more about the antagonist, it would’ve felt more dangerous and risky, but since I didn’t know much about her, I didn’t see her as threatening and then I didn’t care as much. 

Also, there is a lot of language in this book – way more than in book one. I was surprised by how much language was in this one and it immediately turned me off. Aside from the cursing, some of the dialects felt like an odd choice because some characters’ dialogue read like Southern or country, but it’s a seaside town, which didn’t make sense to me. 

Even though this book didn’t seem to have as much heart and charm as the first book, I still really enjoyed it and will read a third book when it comes out. Definitely recommend.

The Wishing Game by Meg Shaffer

My GR Rating: 4 (4.5)
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Contemporary
Buy on Amazon here.

GR Description: Years ago, a reclusive mega-bestselling children’s author quit writing under mysterious circumstances. Suddenly he resurfaces with a brand-new book and a one-of-a-kind competition, offering a prize that will change the winner’s life in this absorbing and whimsical novel.

Make a wish. . . .

Lucy Hart knows better than anyone what it’s like to grow up without parents who loved her. In a childhood marked by neglect and loneliness, Lucy found her solace in books, namely the Clock Island series by Jack Masterson. Now a twenty-six-year-old teacher’s aide, she is able to share her love of reading with bright, young students, especially seven-year-old Christopher Lamb, who was left orphaned after the tragic death of his parents. Lucy would give anything to adopt Christopher, but even the idea of becoming a family seems like an impossible dream without proper funds and stability.

But be careful what you wish for. . . .

Just when Lucy is about to give up, Jack Masterson announces he’s finally written a new book. Even better, he’s holding a contest at his home on the real Clock Island, and Lucy is one of the four lucky contestants chosen to compete to win the one and only copy.

For Lucy, the chance of winning the most sought-after book in the world means everything to her and Christopher. But first, she must contend with ruthless book collectors, wily opponents, and the distractingly handsome (and grumpy) Hugo Reese, the illustrator of the Clock Island books. Meanwhile, Jack “the Mastermind” Masterson is plotting the ultimate twist ending that could change all their lives forever.

. . . You might just get it.

My Brief Review: This was an absolutely adorable, charming story that left my heart warm and my eyes teary. Yes, I did cry a little at the end. It was so sweet!

This reads like a Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory retelling, but in this story, we have an elderly author who is one of the most famous authors ever who comes out of semi-retirement to write one last book in his Clock Island series. He invites four of his biggest fans to his home, which is Clock Island, off the coast of Maine, to compete in a competition. The winner receives the one and only copy of this final book, and they can do whatever they want with it. Everyone knows it’s worth millions, so they are looking to sell it to the highest bidder. 

I really enjoyed the idea of this story, but the execution was a bit lackluster. I thought the majority of the book would revolve around this game or competition, but it’s actually more like a sidenote. It took until about 40% into the book before anything really happened and the game started. I wish we got to the competition sooner. Then, it was just very low-risk, non-threatening puzzles, riddles, and games that they played. This definitely is no Hunger Games or Squid Games. Everything is very “G” rated in this book – no violence, no deaths, no gore, no spicy scenes, and very little language. It’s very wholesome, which I appreciated, but I wanted to see bigger, more dramatic, and interesting challenges and games that the contestants played. This was more of an emotional drama than a fantasy or high adventure story. 

The author, Jack, does play the role of Wonka (and I also got the wizard behind the curtain from The Wizard of Oz), and is pretty quirky and odd. He seems like a sweet old man, but there were times when it felt like boundaries were being blurred and it got a bit old-man creepy. So I had mixed emotions about Jack, but he was harmless and seemed like his heart was in the right place. But some of his backstory is a little unsettling and questionable. 

This is a multiple-POV story, mainly from Lucy, the youngest of the contestants, and Hugo, the Illustrator of the book series who also lives on the island with Jack. I really liked both characters. Lucy has a sad story, both the current day and her past, so my heart empathized with her but I didn’t pity her. She had a rough emotional past, but it seemed to shape her into the person she had become, which was a sweet, kind, and caring woman. Her only focus was on the son she wanted to adopt, Christopher. 

The relationship between Lucy and Christopher is really cute and sweet, but also a bit unsettling because she is a teacher’s aide, and some of their behavior feels like it would go against school rules. They are a little too comfortable with each other during school hours and absolutely crossed boundaries by hugging and kissing each other in public when she technically wasn’t his mother. 

There is also a budding romance between Lucy and Hugo, which is really sweet. I really enjoyed seeing them getting to know each other and then watching them get closer to each other. I wish this romance was explored more and there was a longer time period for more to develop between them. There is also a big age gap, almost 10 years, but I didn’t mind it. I thought they were so cute together and kept rooting for them. 

Overall, this is a really cozy, emotional, warm hug of a book. It does have some problems, but I could overlook those issues and still enjoy this very sweet and whimsical read. It’s also pretty short. I read it just a couple of days since it was such an easy read. 

If you like anything bookish in your stories, likable characters, a competition, and a creative and fun setting, then you’ll probably enjoy this one. Definitely recommend!!

The Hanging City by Charlie N. Holmberg

My GR Rating: 5
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fantasy Romance
Buy on Amazon here.

GR Description: For a young woman who wields the power of fear, humanity’s greatest enemy is her only hope in a new fairy-tale adventure by Amazon Charts and Wall Street Journal bestselling author Charlie N. Holmberg.

Seven years on the run from her abusive father, and with no hope of sanctuary among the dwindling pockets of human civilization, Lark is out of options. Her only leverage is a cursed power: she can thrust fear onto others, leaving all threats fleeing in terror. It’s a means of survival as she searches for a place to call home. If the campfire myths of her childhood are true, Lark’s sole chance for refuge could lie in Cagmar, the city of trolls—a brutal species and the sworn enemies of humanity.

Valuing combat prowess, the troll high council is intrigued. Lark could be much more useful than the low-caste humans who merely labor in Cagmar. Her gift makes her invaluable as a monster slayer to fight off the unspeakable creatures that torment the trolls’ hanging city, suspended from a bridge over an endless dark canyon.

Lark will do anything to make Cagmar her home, but her new role comes with a caveat: use her power against a troll, and she’ll be killed. Her loyalty is quickly put to the test when she draws the hatred of a powerful troll who loathes humankind. Still, she finds unexpected friendship in the city and, even more surprisingly, love. But if everything else doesn’t undo her, being caught in the arms of a troll surely will. Now in the fight of her life, Lark has a lot to learn—about her past, about trust and hope when all seems lost, and above all, about the extraordinary power of fear itself.

My Brief Review: I absolutely loved this book. It had a little bit of everything – trolls, humans, monsters, magic, forbidden love, romance, war, friendships, and family. 

The first thing that stuck out to me was the amazing world-building. There is so much intricate detail, which makes it so unique and interesting. I appreciated the map of Cagmar at the beginning of the book so I could refer back to it, which I did. The politics and class system of this world were complex to follow at first, but then I began to understand it, which immersed me even more into this wildly entertaining story. 

I’m a huge fan of this author, and I love her writing. She is such a skilled writer because her books are so descriptive and immersive. She writes in such beautiful, lush lyrical prose. She has become one of my favorite authors of all time. I want to read her books to zero, and she is an auto-buy author for me. 

I’ll be honest though, it started out a little slow but once I got into about the third or fourth chapter, it really took off for me and I couldn’t put it down. This is definitely a bingable book. There are some rather intense scenes with great action sequences. I viscerally felt certain situations that Lark went through. My emotions were shredded and all over the place. Then there are some really romantic and tender moments between Lark and Azmar. It also got pretty steamy while still being a closed-door romance, which I appreciated. I wish more authors wrote like this. I was a little leery about this relationship because usually, I don’t like interspecies romances, but this one worked. It worked so well that I didn’t want it to end. I fell in love with Azmar along with Lark. It is a slow-burn romance, which I enjoyed. And since it’s a forbidden love, it built up the sexual tension even more for a most rewarding resolution. There was also depth, heart, and emotion. It was really heartbreaking and heartwarming. 

I was so enthralled in this world and engaged with the characters. I also loved the side characters, trollis and humans. Funny thing is, I kept seeing ogres in my head and not trolls, like Shrek. But I think the trolls are supposed to look more like World of Warcraft. It’s descriptive in their depictions, from different skin colors to different body shapes to different size tusks, but I still kept seeing ogres. I think that’s just a me problem. 

I didn’t know I needed a troll romance in my life, but here we are! I shipped Lark and Azmar so hard, and now I want more. I want to know what happens to them after this story. I want a sequel so bad!! 

This was a beautiful story about belonging, self-worth, love, sacrifice, and perseverance. The pacing was perfect. We got enough action scenes to keep it interesting and entertaining, but we also got enough slow moments so we weren’t exhausted from the action sequences. It was quite the epic story that I wholeheartedly recommend to everyone! Absolutely add this one to your TBR list and make sure to pick it up soon!!

Non-Fiction Books:

The Lazy Genius Way by Kendra Adachi

My GR Rating: 3
Format: Audiobook – Narrator: Kendra Adachi and Emily P. Freeman
Buy on Amazon here.

GR Description: The chorus of “shoulds” is loud. You should enjoy the moment, dream big, have it all, get up before the sun, track your water consumption, go on date nights, and be the best. Or maybe you should ignore what people think, live on dry shampoo, be a negligent PTA mom, have a dirty house, and claim your hot mess like a badge of honor.

It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed by the mixed messages of what it means to live well.

Kendra Adachi, the creator of the Lazy Genius movement, invites you to live well by your own definition and equips you to be a genius about what matters and lazy about what doesn’t. Everything from your morning routine to napping without guilt falls into place with Kendra’s thirteen Lazy Genius principles, including:

  • Decide once
  • Start small
  • Ask the Magic Question
  • Go in the right order
  • Schedule rest

Discover a better way to approach your relationships, work, and piles of mail. Be who you are without the complication of everyone else’s “shoulds.” Do what matters, skip the rest, and be a person again.

My Brief Review: If you’ve never read a self-help or motivational book, you may find this very useful and helpful. As someone who has spent nearly a decade reading these types of books, this was nothing groundbreaking. I’ve heard all of this information before and didn’t really learn anything new. It’s just packaged differently. 

But that’s not to say that I didn’t like it. I listened to the audiobook, and the author, herself, narrated it and she did a great job. She’s enthusiastic and animated in her delivery. It was very pleasant to listen to her. You could feel her excitement and energy come through her voice as she read. Some of her personal stories are comical and made me laugh. 

Kendra Adachi takes the approach of organizing your life, doing things that matter to you, and just ignoring the things that don’t bring you joy or cause you stress. You are choosing what’s worth your time and energy, and she gives 13 ways to help live this way in this step-by-step guide. She gives really good examples or as she calls them, “case studies.” She always shares quite a few stories as well. They are all real-life examples that are simple and practical. She really shows you how to live the “lazy genius” way. 

She explains that it’s all about balance. You can’t be 100% genius because then you’re always stressed, frazzled, and exhausted, which leads to mental health struggles and burnout. But you also can’t be 100% lazy because then nothing gets done and you neglect everything. There needs to be a good balance between being a bit of both in your life. Aside from the examples and case studies that she shared, I also appreciated how she recapped everything at the end of each chapter to give the highlights. 

Even though this info wasn’t anything new to me, I still found it helpful and took notes while I listened to it. I may try a few of her suggestions to see if it makes a difference in my life. I will say, though, that this book leans heavily toward families and parents, which I am not, and people who are pretty social, which I am not. So there were times when I couldn’t connect with what she was saying because I’m not a parent, and I don’t have a huge social life. 

Another turnoff for me was the obvious liberal/leftist viewpoint she has on some things. I wouldn’t say this is a woke book, but there were comments made here and there that made me roll my eyes and sounded very Left side of the aisle. But then on the flip side of the coin, she also comes from a Christian viewpoint and talks about God and Jesus here and there. So it was interesting. 

Kendra does have a podcast. I haven’t listened to it yet, but I may give it a shot and see if she has any more helpful tips or advice. At the time of this recording, she has over 340 episodes, and they seem to run anywhere from 15 minutes up to an hour, but most look like they are about 30 minutes or so. 

I could see how most people would enjoy this book. I don’t know if I would recommend it, but I say if it sounds interesting to you, then give it a shot. I think the audiobook would be more entertaining than physically reading it, so I do recommend listening to it if you decide to check it out.

Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing by Matthew Perry

My GR Rating: 4
Format: Audiobook – Narrator: Matthew Perry
Buy on Amazon here.

GR Description: “Hi, my name is Matthew, although you may know me by another name. My friends call me Matty. And I should be dead.”

So begins the riveting story of acclaimed actor Matthew Perry, taking us along on his journey from childhood ambition to fame to addiction and recovery in the aftermath of a life-threatening health scare. Before the frequent hospital visits and stints in rehab, there was five-year-old Matthew, who traveled from Montreal to Los Angeles, shuffling between his separated parents; fourteen-year-old Matthew, who was a nationally ranked tennis star in Canada; twenty-four-year-old Matthew, who nabbed a coveted role as a lead cast member on the talked-about pilot then called Friends Like Us. . . and so much more.

In an extraordinary story that only he could tell—and in the heartfelt, hilarious, and warmly familiar way only he could tell it—Matthew Perry lays bare the fractured family that raised him (and also left him to his own devices), the desire for recognition that drove him to fame, and the void inside him that could not be filled even by his greatest dreams coming true. But he also details the peace he’s found in sobriety and how he feels about the ubiquity of Friends, sharing stories about his castmates and other stars he met along the way. Frank, self-aware, and with his trademark humor, Perry vividly depicts his lifelong battle with addiction and what fueled it despite seemingly having it all.

Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing is an unforgettable memoir that is both intimate and eye-opening—as well as a hand extended to anyone struggling with sobriety. Unflinchingly honest, moving, and uproariously funny, this is the book fans have been waiting for.

My Brief Review: Like most people my age, I grew up watching Friends. In fact, it’s my favorite sitcom of all time. I adored everything about it, and continue to rewatch the series in full from time to time. So when I heard that Matthew Perry, aka Chandler Bing, had died, my heart was broken. Of the three men on the show, he was my favorite. His dry, witty, sarcastic humor made him stand out to me. Then when he got together with Monica, I loved them together and enjoyed seeing the softer side of Chandler. 

Little did I, and I’m sure the rest of the world, know about the dark demons that plagued Matthew Perry in real life. I didn’t know about all the hardships he went through in his life and the problems he had with addictions to drugs and alcohol. From time to time, through Hollywood news, I heard that he was in rehab…yet again, I just thought it was a typical story from a high-profile celebrity. Maybe he just partied too hard and lost control. Maybe he couldn’t handle the pressures of high-level fame and fortune. However, after listening to this audiobook, I found out how deep his wounds went. 

Matthew Perry narrates his own book, which makes this whole story even more heartbreaking and heartfelt. Now that we all know how it ends for him, it was eerie to hear his voice beyond the dead. He does curse a lot, but he’s also extremely vulnerable and raw when he talks about his addiction to drugs and alcohol, which is a topic he covers for the majority of the book. He does talk about his childhood trauma, which instilled negative emotions of abandonment, self-loathing, and worthlessness. We find out that his problems started way, way before his years on Friends. In fact, they started when he was an infant. 

This is the story of a man living a broken life. It was so compelling and thought-provoking. He’s brutally honest but in a sincere way, which was inspiring. 

Like most people, I was more interested in hearing about his time on Friends and afterward. He tells some really funny stories and behind-the-scenes information. I really loved his touching “thank you” messages to his loved ones, co-workers, friends, family, and fans. I’m glad he eventually found gratitude, happiness, and sobriety later in life. He never got married or had kids, but he found love in his life through family and friends. 

It has an uplifting ending that is full of hope, but we all know that it doesn’t last long because he has passed away. I did tear up at moments while listening to him, especially at the end. He sounded so joyous and hopeful for his future, only for it all to be cut short. 

This is a somber book but it was definitely worth a listen. If you enjoyed Chandler on Friends or any movies with Matthew Perry in them, I think you will like his autobiography, especially if you listen to it, which I recommend. It’s much more captivating and immersive hearing it come from Matthew himself. Just make sure to have the tissue box nearby when you listen to or read this book. But I would recommend it!

Beyond the Wand: The Magic and Mayhem of Growing Up a Wizard by Tom Felton

My GR Rating: 4
Format: Audiobook – Narrator: Tom Felton
Buy on Amazon here.

GR Description: Tom Felton’s adolescence was anything but ordinary. His early rise to fame in beloved films like The Borrowers catapulted him into the limelight, but nothing could prepare him for what was to come after he landed the iconic role of Draco Malfoy, the bleached blonde villain of the Harry Potter movies. For the next ten years, he was at the center of a huge pop culture phenomenon and yet, in between filming, he would go back to being a normal teenager trying to fit into a normal school.

Speaking with great candor and his signature humor, Tom shares his experience growing up as part of the wizarding world while also trying to navigate the muggle world. He tells stories from his early days in the business like his first acting gig where he was mistaken for fellow blonde child actor Macaulay Culkin and his Harry Potter audition where, in a very Draco-like move, he fudged how well he knew the books the series was based on (not at all). He reflects on his experiences working with cinematic greats such as Alan Rickman, Sir Michael Gambon, Dame Maggie Smith, and Ralph Fiennes (including that awkward Voldemort hug). And, perhaps most poignantly, he discusses the lasting relationships he made over that decade of filming, including with Emma Watson, who started out as a pesky nine-year-old whom he mocked for not knowing what a boom mic was but who soon grew into one of his dearest friends. Then, of course, there are the highs and lows of fame and navigating life after such a momentous and life-changing experience.

Tom Felton’s Beyond the Wand is an entertaining, funny, and poignant must-read for any Harry Potter fan. Prepare to meet a real-life wizard.

My Brief Review: I enjoyed getting to know Tom. He shares about his childhood, family, and how he got into acting. There are rather amusing stories and situations that he got himself into as a child and teenager, even into his young adult years. He’s the youngest of four boys, and he got picked on quite a bit by his older brothers, but not in a devious way; more in a playful way. 

If you’re a Potterhead (which is an extreme Harry Potter fan) or just a regular fan, like me, you’ll really enjoy this book. He spends the majority of it talking about how he got the role of Draco Malfoy and his time in this world. He talks a lot about behind-the-scenes and shares some really funny stories. There was quite a lot of tom-foolery going on (lol, see what I did there?) He also shares quite a bit of his thoughts, experiences, and relationships with different actors from the movies. Since his role in the movies wasn’t one of the main roles, he grew up with a pretty normal childhood. He didn’t get swept up in the dark side of Hollywood like so many child actors. Quite surprisingly, he was teased about being in the Harry Potter movies by his older brothers and friends at school. He didn’t really see himself as a serious actor when he was younger. 

But as he got older, life caught up to him and so did all the glitz and glamor of Hollywood, where he ended up in rehab. Now, compared to other stories of Hollywood stars who dealt with various addictions and ended up in rehab, Tom’s experience is very mild. He dealt with some mental health issues, which he advocates for at the end of the book, but he never got into anything hardcore or had any severe or dangerous outcomes, like Matthew Perry. 

I will call out the woke when I see it, and like most Hollywood stars, it’s obvious that he leans left, and there were a few moments where I was rolling my eyes when he got a bit snowflaky and woke. Typical celebrity. But it was tolerable and easy to ignore and move on. There were also some parts where he sounded more pretentious than humble (and he’s definitely a cheeky guy, which comes off as arrogant), but I thought his stories were interesting. 

Overall, this was a fun audiobook that I got through in just a couple of days. Tom is a natural storyteller. He was entertaining to listen to, warm, and honest. He had some great positive messages about mental health at the end, and what it means to truly be “rich in life.” It leaves you on a positive note, feeling good. Definitely recommend!

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson

My GR Rating: 4 (4.5)
Format: Audiobook – Narrator: Rob McQuay
Buy on Amazon here.

GR Description: The Appalachian Trail trail stretches from Georgia to Maine and covers some of the most breathtaking terrain in America–majestic mountains, silent forests, and sparkling lakes. If you’re going to take a hike, it’s probably the place to go. And Bill Bryson is surely the most entertaining guide you’ll find. He introduces us to the history and ecology of the trail and to some of the other hardy (or just foolhardy) folks he meets along the way–and a couple of bears. Already a classic, A Walk in the Woods will make you long for the great outdoors (or at least a comfortable chair to sit and read in).

My Brief Review: One of my brothers read this book and suggested it. I read the summary and thought it sounded good, so I decided to check it out. I listened to the audiobook, which was great, and then I found out that in 2015 they made a movie based on the book with Robert Redford and Nick Nolte, so I watched it. 

I’ll start with the book. It mixes travel writing with memoir for a really good book. It was an interesting look at The Appalachian Trail (AT) from this man’s experience. He had just recently returned to the U.S. after living in England for 10 years, where he met his wife. So it feels like part of his motive to hike this trail was in an effort to reconnect to nature and the country he left. 

I enjoyed hearing about his experiences, though it wasn’t as thrilling as I thought it would be. He goes on quite an adventure but I was hoping it was more dramatic; however, it was still entertaining. I wish we had more stories from his hike, but he is detailed in the events that happened. I did feel like I was there with him. There are some pretty funny moments, and the men feel really relatable. I also was hoping to hear how this hike changed him on a spiritual level or if he had some kind of great awakening. He touched on this aspect a tiny bit, but I was hoping for a lot more. But again, this is based on his experience and maybe he’s just not a spiritual guy. So that’s more of a me problem. 

He also seamlessly weaves in historical facts, science facts, the intricacies of hiking, and commentary on wildlife, environmental issues/concerns, and the government. This book is very well-researched. Some people may not like these parts or think it veers too much away from the actual hiking story, but I enjoyed the breaks from his experience. I feel like I learned quite a bit and felt like it enhanced his storytelling. However, this book was written in 1998, so I’ll venture to guess that the statistics are old now and most likely not accurate. 

I also enjoyed his dry, sarcastic sense of humor and wit. This may turn some people off, but I enjoyed it, and some parts made me laugh, especially from his hiking companion, Katz. However, Bill Bryson is quite a judgemental guy. Some of the things he said about people he met and his walking partner were not just snarky but downright mean and nasty. We’ll never know if he actually spoke some of these thoughts out loud to people’s faces or if he reserved all of those comments for the inner monologue of the book. But he doesn’t make himself look too good, and I saw many people on GoodReads give him a lower rating because of this character trait. 

I tell you what though, in the beginning, he discusses all the reasons he may not want to hike this trail. He talks about animal attacks, specifically bear attacks. Then goes on about the extreme weather conditions, insect bites, poisonous plants, injuries, and so much more. I don’t know how he made the decision to do it. Right at the beginning, I was like, “Nope! I’d never do it.” But it made me appreciate his storytelling that much more and this huge endeavor that he took. It was really well-written and a captivating read (or rather, listen).

The AT is almost 2,200 miles and some consider it the longest hiking-only trail in the world. Well, they don’t complete this trail. Now, I don’t think this is a spoiler because, from the beginning of the book, you don’t get the sense that he’s trying to actually complete it. That’s not the expectation. They do take breaks from the hiking and chop it up into segments over time. They even hike a few states, and then drive to another part of the trail in another state, and then continue to hike. It definitely feels like it’s more about the journey and not the destination. It’s quite the feat to hike the entire path, and I never thought that he would. I had some hope and was a little disappointed when he didn’t, but it’s also realistic that he didn’t. 

Now the movie. Apparently, Robert Redford read the book and was so moved by it, that he signed on to do the movie. They were planning to shoot the movie in 2005, but for various reasons, it got pushed until the mid-2000s. Then the movie came out in 2015. 

I was excited to watch the movie because I knew the landscape views would be beautiful, and they are. I say watch this movie just for the cinematography and scenery alone. It’s absolutely breathtaking and makes you understand the appeal of wanting to hike this epic path. 

I also thought Nick Nolte was the perfect actor chosen to play Steven Katz, his bumbling companion who’s pretty rough around the edges. But his complete lack of self-awareness is utterly charming, especially in the movie. He had me laughing the whole time, and I fell in love with his character, which saved the movie for me because unfortunately, I was really disappointed in Redford’s portrayal of Bill Bryson. In the book, Bryson comes off as sassy and witty, but in the movie, Redford is reserved, modest, and bland. When comparing the two characters, in which Nolte plays this over-the-top guy, Redford can’t really stand on his own and just falls flat. I wanted more zest and vigor from Redford. He didn’t play the character badly but it was just boring. 

The cast is really small with some cameo appearances by Nick Offerman, Mary Steenburgen, Kristen Schaal, and Emma Thompson, who plays Bryson’s wife. There were some nice comedic scenes and touching moments. 

They also did a great job of being pretty faithful to the book. There are some dramatizations in some scenes compared to the book, but that’s typical Hollywood. They even pulled some dialogue and sentences straight from the book.

However, even though the movie was entertaining and had some funny parts, it was pretty pedestrian. The core of the story is about two men walking with a little bit of drama thrown in, not much of an action-packed movie. We don’t get to know the characters on a deeper level. I certainly didn’t walk away having learned anything more or feel changed or moved after watching it. As for all the fun facts we get in the book, we some of this information via info-dumping from Redford when he’s speaking to Nolte, which doesn’t translate well. It feels forced and not natural at all to the script. It makes Redford come across as an annoying know-it-all who just spews all of these facts randomly. Thank goodness they are kept to a minimum in the movie or it would’ve felt tedious and boring. 

But the biggest issue where the movie diverts from the book is around the age of the characters. In the book, Bryson and Katz are in their mid-40s when they hike the AT. But Redford and Nolte were in their late 70s when they filmed the movie. It feels like they tried to pass Redford off as in his late 60s, like when they originally intended to make the movie. But there is a big difference on the challenges a 40-something would face compared to a 70-something. There are physical demands of the AT, and Bryson may have been out of shape when he started it, but he wouldn’t have struggled with it in the same way Redford would being a much older man. 

We also don’t get a sense of the time in the movie. The book was written in 1998, but there are parts of the movie that feel like modern day. 

Overall, if you didn’t read the book and watched the movie first, you may not think much of it. It’s an okay movie. I’d give it three stars. But if you read the book after you watch the movie, you will probably get more out of the book and understand the charm of the book better. It’s got far more personality and a lot more fun facts and history, so you’ll learn a lot more. 

Now, if you read the book first and then want to watch the movie just to see an adaptation, I say keep your expectations low. It’s a decent novelty watch but know it’s just a watered-down version of the book. Watch it to see all of the gorgeous views and lush forest and mountain scenery. 

You can take it or leave it with the movie, but I absolutely recommend the book! It’s been one of my favorite non-fiction books that I’ve read so far. If you’re new to non-fiction, especially travel literature and memoirs, like me, then this would be a great first book to start with.

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

My GR Rating: 5
Format: Audiobook – Narrators: Barbara Rosenblat and John Franklyn-Robbins
Buy on Amazon here.

GR Description: When Helene Hanff makes an innocent inquiry about the possibility of purchasing hard-to-find books through Marks and Co., Booksellers, she begins a 20-year love affair with Frank Doel, the proper English bookseller who answers her letter and sends along her first order in the fall of 1949.

They are two very unlikely correspondents: she a cranky Jewish New Yorker who writes TV scripts and lives in a messy apartment on East 95th Street; he a determinedly courteous middle-class Englishman who sends her beautifully bound and often obscure antiquarian books from the shop he manages on Charing Cross Road in London.

The letters, written between 1949 and 1969, capture the period and pay tribute to the special kind of reader who treasures a well-worn classic.

My Brief Review: This was a super short audio, just under two hours, so I finished it in one afternoon. I absolutely adored this audiobook. What a wonderful hidden gem. It was so sweet and charming. I even got a bit emotional and cried a little, not because it was that sad, which it was around the end, but because it’s so incredibly touching how this relationship between this American woman and a bookstore staff in England evolved over time and how much they cared for and respected each other. It literally moved me to tears.

I loved how their correspondence went from business to personal. Helene was such a fun, sassy, funny, and witty lady from New York. She cracked me up with how bold and straightforward she was in her letters. She knew exactly what she wanted. I have to admit, though, that most of the books and material that she requested were not literature or authors I’ve ever heard of. So I felt a little lost with those references and book titles. I couldn’t appreciate any of the rare books and novels because I didn’t know what they were or the value of them. 

As for Frank and the staff from the bookstore, they were so helpful in sending her the books she was looking for. Frank was a soft-spoken and charming man. Everyone at the store was really gracious and thankful for the gifts and treats Helene sent them. I was surprised by how personal it got between Helene and everyone, especially Frank, and how sweet Helene was to send them food that was hard for English people to get right after WWII. 

There were so many touching moments and a few heartbreaking moments. I don’t want to spoil anything for someone who hasn’t read or heard of this book yet so I won’t say what those are or ultimately, what happens to everyone. But I do advise to have the tissues nearby with this one. 

It was so interesting to listen to this correspondence that started almost 75 years ago – before the internet, before online shopping, before social media, and before Smartphones and mobile devices.

As I was working on the review for this book, I watched another book reviewer who I follow on YouTube create a spotlight video about this author and her books. As I watched that video, she mentioned that there was a movie adaptation. I didn’t know there was a movie based on the book, so I rented it on Amazon and watched it. It was made back in 1987, starring Anthony Hopkins, who plays Frank, and Ann Bancroft, who plays Helene. Judi Dench was also part of the cast, and she played Nora, the wife of Frank. 

It was a good movie and very closely followed the book, but I thought it was rather boring. There’s not much to the book itself, so I wondered how it would translate visually. I thought it would show more of Frank and Helene in their daily lives, which they do, but there’s not a lot of action or drama. It was a decent movie but a little bland and boring. I even wondered why they felt the need to make a movie based on the book. I don’t feel like it elevated the story anymore, and it’s not too memorable of a movie. It’s a sweet story and the actors did a fine job, but I feel like I was missing the charm I felt from listening to this audiobook. If you have never read the book, you may enjoy the movie if you like historical dramas. But if you have read or listened to the book, then watching this movie would just be a companion watch to see how things play out visually. 

Overall, I loved this book and liked the book more than the movie. It felt like a warm hug to my heart. Highly, highly recommend the book!! The movie isn’t bad either, but I don’t feel like you need to watch the movie to appreciate the book anymore. The book stands firmly on its own.


Alright, that’s it! Those are the fiction and non-fiction books that I read from my personal physical TBR pile and the audiobooks I listened to from the library. Even though I didn’t get anywhere near all the books I wanted to read before the end of the year, I still had a wonderful reading month. I went slower, read less, and my body feels so much better now.

There are still three titles that I absolutely want to get in before 2024, so I am pushing a few to December, even though that’s my holiday reading month. If you haven’t listened to this month’s TBR book list, it’s the most recent episode posted. Most of those holiday books will be audiobooks from the library. I actually have a very small pile of holiday books here, so I figured since the physical book list is low this month, I’ll be able to pick up a few from November. I still want to get in: Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt, Divine Rivals by Rebecca Ross, which the sequel to this book is coming out the day after Christmas, so I thought I’d pre-order the book if I like the first one so I can pick the second one up right after, and then see if there is space for A Study in Drowning by Ava Reid and The Last Tale of the Flower Bride by Roshani Chokshi. So I’ll see how the month goes.

Until next time, my story lovers, happy reading!

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