What I’m Reading… An Open Book

Each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts “An Open Book,” creating a place where writers can link posts about the books they’ve read the past month. It’s a great way to find new books for your stack! I’m sharing the books I read in January. May it inspire you to pick up a good book!

Every Time We Say Goodbye by Natalie Jenner

Every Time We Say Goodbye by Natalie Jenner Book Cover

The first book I finished in January actually won’t be available until May 14, 2024! It’s an ARC (Advanced Reading Copy) from #NetGalley.

If you liked The Jane Austen Society and Bloomsbury Girls – you don’t want to miss this one! It’s 1955 and Vivien Lowry, of Bloomsbury Girls, is still smarting from disappointing reviews of her latest play. When offered the opportunity to work as a scriptwriter at the Cinecittà studios in Rome, she accepts. Natalie Jenner, author of The Jane Austen Society and Bloomsbury Girls, beautifully brings to life post-WWII Rome and the emergence of Italian cinema.

Although it’s ten years after WWII ended, the characters are still haunted by their war experiences: losing loved ones, surviving refugee camps, and witnessing wartime atrocities. This is a multi-faceted book, one of power, surrender, survival, healing, and acceptance.

If you’ve read Natalie’s earlier books you’ll recognize many names and characters; however, this book can stand alone. I knew very little about post-war Rome and the Italian cinema, but now I’m inspired to learn more about the real people whose stories inspired this work.

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

The Woman in Cabin 10 book cover.

After last year’s success, I invited my Facebook friends to suggest titles for my 12 Books Challenge. (Read about the challenge here!)

The first recommended book in my new 12 Books Challenge (for 2024) turned out to be a sleepless thriller. It opens with an apartment break-in before everything quickly races downhill for our main character -Laura (Lo). By the time she embarks on her latest travel writing assignment, on board a luxury cruise ship, she hasn’t slept in days, may or may not have broken up with her boyfriend, and is looking forward to getting some real sleep because she’s temporarily safe from further break ins.

But she drinks too much the first night and instead of sleeping, she’s heart-racing awake and hears the girl she met in Cabin 10 being thrown overboard. When she reports it to the head of security, he investigates, but finds nothing. There is no guest in the clean and empty Cabin 10, no one is missing, and he suggests perhaps her drinking combined with anxiety medicine and PTSD over the recent break-in, is affecting her imagination.

Now we have a sleep-deprived, irritated, paranoid, main character trying to convince herself of what she really saw/heard, decide who to trust, and dang it – of course the Wi-Fi and cell service is still out. Enter the second half – which I won’t spoil but once we get into the…. ah…. beginning of the reveals there’s a nice twist that was only slightly (satisfyingly) predictable. A high-energy ending race to the finish and whew.

The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys

The Fountains of Silence book cover

Ruta’s book “I Must Betray You” appeared on last year’s 12 Book Challenge and earned a 5-star review. So when I saw another title by the same author at the library one afternoon, I overlooked the 512 pages and checked it out.

1957 Madrid. Spain is under the oppressive dictatorship of General Francisco Franco. Once again, Ruta Sepetys uses historical fiction to introduce readers to the real horrors of living in a socialist dictatorship country. Twenty years after their parents are shot, arrested, tortured, and murdered, the now-grown children struggle to survive extreme poverty while fighting the memories of their own “re-education” (torture) because their parents opposed Franco.

Eighteen year old Daniel Matheson, a talented photographer, yearns to go to Journalism school instead of following his father into the oil business. He’s in Madrid with his parents; Mom’s revisiting the country of her birth and Dad’s closing a huge oil deal with Franco.

In the Castellana Hilton, Daniel meets many who shape his experiences in Spain. What begins as a quest to build a prize-winning portfolio becomes a snapshot of War After War, capturing the people and secrets of Madrid. Along the way, he discovers not all is as it appears.

Short, captivating, chapters from different character point of views move the story along. Between sections, the author inserts excerpts from contemporary U.S. newspapers or oral history interviews conducted with former-U.S. Diplomats in the Foreign Affairs office.

An interesting read in a new historical setting for me. The life of those in Madrid at this time is sobering. The author’s format and style made this a relatively quick read for me.

The Hotel Nantucket by Elin Hilderbrand

The Hotel Nantucket by Elin Hilderbrand book cover

This book caught my eye because four Goodreads friends – all named Jennifer – read and rated the book and the title kept popping up as a suggested read. I listened to the audiobook narrated by Erin Bennett.

I’m unfamiliar with Elin Hilderbrand, apparently she’s “Queen of the Beach Reads” and appropriately this book is exactly that – a Beach Read. I now realize she has a Nantucket series so some of the characters in this book likely overlap with others. Still, I read this as a standalone and didn’t know I might be missing anything. It took me a little while to feel connected to the story. A few times I considered moving onto something else, but I’m a committed reader/listener.

You can read the overall description…anywhere, but here are a few things I liked. After listening to the descriptions of the hotel and its transformation, I wanted to stay there. I wanted to eat at The Blue Bar. I wanted their hotel experience. I liked most of the characters – especially Lizbet Keaton, Sweet Edie, and Longshot. The ending neatly wrapped up the storyline and left you feeling complete.

If you’re looking for a summer read, maybe for a cruise, vacation travel, etc. you’ll probably enjoy this novel.

Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Book cover of Esperanza Rising

Seriously, HOW have I never read this book before? One of my daughters read this in school years ago and while I usually read everything they read in school (because hello – great books!) I missed this one. So when son’s class started reading this book, I jumped on the opportunity to read it with him. (We actually listened to this audiobook, narrated by Trini Alvarado, each morning on the way to school.)

I don’t know which I liked more – the beautiful, lyrical story of Esperanza or the subsequent author’s note telling how it’s based on the author’s Abuelita and her own journey to the U.S. I only have adjectives for this one: Beautiful, poignant, captivating, educational, inspirational, powerful, heart-grabbing, heartwarming, soaring, transformative. A definite must-read for all.

Thirst by Varsha Bajaj

Book Cover of THIRST by Varsha Bajaj

A 2024 Texas Bluebonnet Award nominee, Thirst is a solid read with a powerful eye-opening message about the immeasurable importance of access to clean drinking water for everyone. Being unfamiliar with Mumbai and its culture, I needed the authors contextual clues to get settled at the beginning. However, soon I came to know Meena and her family. The concept of having to wait in line every morning to fill jugs of water for your daily needs, and then wait for the water to boil completely is hard to grasp. But it’s a reality for far too many people across the globe. I enjoyed learning about Meena’s life, her family, her dreams for the future and how she grew in self-awareness across the story.

There’s a water mafia storyline that felt forced as a means to create suspense and a climax; however, the real story is about Meena and how her life responsibilities changed when she had to take over everything after her mother became ill and left home. Meena struggles to attend school and grows in awareness of the support offered and available to her by the people of her community. Her ideas, her little poems, the concerns and worries she had, her experience taking over her mother’s job. This is the heart and soul of the story.

Links to books in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Your purchases made through these links support our website. Thank you!

Where noted, books are review copies. More often, I’ve purchased the book myself or borrowed it from the library or a friend.


Shelly Henley Kelly