January TBR vs. What I Actually Read

Hey everyone!

I’m terrible with TBR’s. I’m a mood reader, so really, I buy a bunch of books in genres that I enjoy, knowing that ONE DAY I’ll get to them…when the mood strikes.

So, a refresher for the January TBR. When I posted, I said I was going to read:

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  1. Lock Every Door by Riley Sager
  2. Home Before Dark by Riley Sager
  3. What Lies in the Woods by Kate Alice Marshall
  4. The Glass Ocean by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White
  5. Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
  6. The Spanish Love Deception by Elena Armas
  7. Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner
  8. When You Were Mine by Rebecca Serle
  9. Love and Luck by Jenna Evans Welch

I was actually off to a good start! Except when I remembered that I am a member of two different book clubs…and I completely spaced on putting those book club books on my TBR.

Therefore, I present to you…what I actually read in the month of January.


Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I started the year off keeping to my word and reading the first book on my TBR. This book felt like Rosemary’s Baby meets The Paris Apartment. I loved Rosemary’s Baby. I did not love the Paris Apartment. But I felt the story of this was compelling enough to keep going. The novel is about Jules, who is down on her luck after losing her job, going through a break up, and having no place to live. She takes on an apartment sitting job at the Bartholomew, thinking this is the answer to her current situation, but she soon runs into issues, like weird rules about the job and the fact that a series of previous apartment sitters have gone missing. She then sets out on a mission to find the truth about the Bartholomew tenants. I found the perspective of the narrator to be interesting, and I wanted to know the secret behind what exactly was happening at the Bartholomew. Overall, it was a fun read, but it definitely kept to all the common tropes and arcs and whatnots of contemporary thrillers. So, if you’re looking for something original, I don’t think this is the book for you. However, it was still a good time.

What Lies in the Woods by Kate Alice Marshall

Rating: 3 out of 5.

*TW: discussion of suicide, mental illness, and gun violence

Ok. I went into this figuring it would be your run-of-the-mill of thriller, and it definitely was. But my issue was more with the depiction of mental illness in the novel and the idea that it was mental illness that drove certain characters to violence. When the author revealed the killers and the truth of the issues that had been teased at throughout the book, the revelation was surprising, I guess, but I found myself thinking, “Ok, that turn makes sense.” I didn’t have that same pleasing sense of suspense that I usually get from thrillers, and I was mostly annoyed while reading this because so many characters were introduced and none of them were very compelling. Marshall is obviously a good writer. But the content of this particular novel fell short for me. I wanted more. More fleshed out characters, more surprise, and a more compelling voice from the narrator.

The Perfect Marriage by Jeneva Rose

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Here is where we get into the book club choices that I completely forgot about. And this book was such a fun ride! The premise is that Sarah Morgan, a prominent criminal defense attorney in D.C., must defend her husband, Adam, against the death penalty when he is accused of murdering his mistress at his and Sarah’s lake house. The book has dueling chapters told from the perspectives of Adam and Sarah, and the story is full of twists that kept me in suspense. However, the reason I gave it four stars is because there were some discrepancies in the telling. For example, there’s one scene where a character is wearing sweatpants and then in the same scene, literally on the next page, that same character is unzipping their fly. I’m not sure about sweatpants with zip flies, but to each their own. Plus, there was a sex scene that seemed to be between one of the characters and a ghost. (Not really a ghost, but the narrator never tells us who is in the room with them and the experience is never discussed again after it happens.) Also, why is Adam so stupid? If you read this book, I would love to discuss because hot damn that man does some dumb things. Any way. Overall, this was a fast read, akin to The Silent Patient with lots of twists and turns that I didn’t see coming. Especially that last one. Woah.

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This. Book. Though. From the minute I picked it up I couldn’t put it down. It’s a suspenseful thriller and a haunted house story all rolled into one. The novel is about Maggie Holt, who inherits the house her family fled from in the middle of the night 25 years earlier. She is told to never go back to the house, but she does in fact go back to find out the truth behind the book her father wrote about their time in the house. The twists in this one were twisty. The atmosphere was the perfect combo of The Hacienda and Mexican Gothic meets Amityville Horror. The writing felt like I was able to read at the pace that would get me to the answers more quickly. I even stayed up late to finish it because I NEEDED to know what happened. Highly HIGHLY recommend this one.


It Starts With Us by Colleen Hoover

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This is the next installment of “Books I Forgot I Needed to Read for Book Club.” My book club read It Ends With Us a few years back, and with the release of It Starts With Us, we felt the need to return to the story of Atlas and Lily. I am not a huge CoHo book fan, as the kids call her on BookTok, but I appreciated what she did for her characters in this book. It Starts With Us takes up where It Ends With Us left off. The main character, Lily, has divorced her abusive husband, Ryle, (the names in these books give me the ick, but any way). For a year and a half, she has been living as a single mother, taking care of her daughter, Emerson, and running her flower shop, when she runs into her long-lost love, Atlas. Again, with the names. The book is all about the relationship between Atlas and Lily and is a semi low stakes account of their relationship complete with a happy ending. I know there were people who obsessively loved It Ends With Us and were mad about It Starts With Us. But I think what people need to remember is that It Ends With Us was taken from the pages of Colleen Hoover’s own experience. It was hard enough for her to write that book, so it makes sense that she would want the experience of writing It Starts With Us to be less traumatic, both for her and for her audience. Overall, it was a quick read, and I enjoyed the portrayal of Lily and Atlas’s relationship.

Literary Fiction

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This is the last of the forgotten book club reads for the month. I’ve never read anything by Fredrik Backman, but I heard good things about all of his books, including this one. The story is about the intersecting lives of 8 people being held hostage by a failed bank robber during an apartment viewing in Sweden. Mostly, the story is about mental health and anxiety, which, if you’ve read my blog, you know is a personal struggle of mine. I wasn’t bowled over by the book the way I thought I would be, and the writing style reminded me of Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger. However, there were so many poignant moments in the book that resonated with my own experience dealing with anxiety and panic attacks. The relationships between the characters is heartfelt and very touching, and the way mental health is discussed is…comforting. I found myself making note of different parts of the text to come back to. It’s absolutely worth a read and is a book to be read slowly. Also, for anyone who has read this book, what’s the deal with the constant repetition of “How’s tricks?” I’d love to discuss.


Love and Luck by Jenna Evans Welch

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I said it in my TBR post, but I’ll say it again for good measure. I loved Love and Gelato. I liked Love and Olives. And after reading Love and Luck, I’m still lukewarm about this one. The story is about a girl named Addie, who begrudgingly accompanies her brother, Ian, on a tour of Ireland with his friend, Rowan, to chase down a story about his favorite band, Titletrack. It’s all about getting over heartbreak and the bonds of friendship and family. I really loved the depiction of Ireland in the novel. I went there on a trip in the summer of 2016 and had the most magical time. All the places I had been to on that trip were depicted in the book, so it felt like I was back there. But the story took a long time to get going. There was a secret being kept that was constantly being teased at, but then never discussed fully until a few pages before the end of the book. It didn’t have the same emotional suspense that Love and Gelato had. It’s an easy read, however, it was missing something for me.

Books I Am Halfway Through

I will give these books a full review at the end of February, but for now…

When You Were Mine by Rebecca Serle

Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner

The Glass Ocean by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White

Murder at the Breakers by Alyssa Maxwell

I am not even going to set myself up for failure with a February TBR, but apparently these books are going to be on it. : )

Let me know in the comments what you’re reading! And if you’re reading/have read any of the books above, please tell me your thoughts. I’d love to hear your reviews.

Until next week, happy reading, friends!

Published by Robyn Neilsen

I am a writer and educator based out of New Jersey. My creative nonfiction essays and flash fiction stories have been published by Thought Catalog, Vocal Media, and On Mogul. As a lifelong learner, I enjoy honing my craft through writing workshops with LA Writers Group, Gotham Writers, and The Moth. I am currently querying my first novel and am actively working on my second.

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