Book Reviews for January 2023

Written by Michelle Watson

January 15, 2023

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Well, my friends. We have a fresh year of reading ahead of us. What stories will come our way in 2023?

Here are my book reviews for January 2023—a fresh batch, I’m happy to report.

This month, I’m sharing…

  • A knockout memoir—and I don’t even like memoirs that much
  • A brand-new middle-grade novel that feels wonderfully old-timey
  • Loads of kids’ books—I’ve done the prereading, you’re welcome 😜

Here’s where you can find me on Goodreads and The Storygraph. Connect with me so that I can see what you’re reading, too!

Everything Sad Is Untrue

By Daniel Nayeri

Memoir of an Iranian refugee as told (hilariously) by his adolescent self

You’ll love it if poop jokes make you laugh and the truth makes you cry

This ain’t your typical woe-is-me memoir. This book is crafted so beautifully and written with so much tenderness—I laughed, I cried, I loved it. Don’t expect a linear storyline. You’ll be a little disoriented at first, but please do give it a chance. I promise all the pieces will come together.

Content warnings: Domestic abuse (not graphically portrayed). Drug smuggling (not condoned).

The Death of Ivan Illych

By Leo Tolstoy

Novella-length cautionary tale

You’ll love it if you want a challenging story that’ll disinfect your soul

This tiny book is brilliant but extremely uncomfortable. I think most of us have more in common with the unremarkable and self-centered Ivan Illych than we’d care to admit. So, let’s heed the truth of Tolstoy’s cautionary tale. (Fun fact: The name Ivan Illych is the Russian version of John Doe.)

Content warnings: There’s passing mention of Ivan visiting a red-light district.

The Matchmaker’s Gift

By Lynda Cohen Loigman

Alternating timelines chronicle the stories of a Jewish matchmaker in the early 1900s and her granddaughter in the 1990s

You’ll love it if you want to read something light and mildly romantic

I wanted to read this book because I’m interested in the role that matchmakers play in Jewish culture, especially in modern times. How do they make matches? How do they work with families? What’s the process? The fee? This book provided NO such sneak peek, sadly. It was cute, but not for me.

Content warnings: This book portrays a very worldly view of romantic love, so don’t expect much substance.

The Two Towers

By J. R. R. Tolkien

Aragorn and company tackle Saruman, while Gollum leads Frodo and Sam to Mordor

You’ll love it if you’re craving a fantasy adventure written by a master craftsman

I will say it again: The Andy Serkis audio version is tremendous. I’ve only ever seen the LOTR movies, so I had no clue that this book is structured in two parts with parallel timelines. The first one follows Aragorn and his crew to Rohan and onto Helms Deep and then to Orthanc. The second part, which is far and away more intriguing, follows Frodo, Sam and Gollum to Mordor. These books are off the charts.

Content warnings: Wars and violence. Andy Serkis does that raspy/gurgly Gollum voice, which may creep out younger listeners.

Bright Evening Star: Mystery of the Incarnation

By Madeleine L’Engle

Reflections on Jesus Christ in human form

You’ll love it if you want to grapple with some of the harder-to-understand aspects of Christianity

I read this book off and on during the Christmas season. It’s not exactly an advent book, but it examines the Christian belief that God took human form. Why did God choose to redeem the world THAT way? How should the incarnation affect us? I didn’t finish this one. It wasn’t bad at all, but there were a few things that struck me as woo-woo.

Content warnings: She briefly describes an icky incident in which an adult male molested her.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond

By Elizabeth George Speare

A free-spirited young girl from Barbados tries to survive in Puritanical New England with mixed results

You’ll love it if you want to read superior historical fiction (with more than a touch of romance)

I’m on a mission to read all of Elizabeth George Speare’s books because I never read ANY of them as a kid. I can definitely see why this is her most popular work. The plot is nice and tight, and all of the characters have virtues AND flaws that make them human. Preteen me would’ve loved the romance element—I was a big sucker for that stuff (and still am).

Content warnings: Some parents don’t like when a book is overly focused on romance, and this one definitely has its share, although it’s all tastefully displayed. There is a witch hunt, but no actual witchcraft is portrayed.

The Star That Always Stays

By Anna Rose Johnson

A young girl in the 1910s must figure out who she is, past, present, and future

You’ll love it if you’re a fan of Anne Shirley, Jo March, and the Penderwick sisters

Do you ever wish that a modern author would write lovely, wholesome books like Anne of Green Gables or Little Women? Do you also wish that authors would have the guts to point their young readers to The Truth? If you answered yes, then you MUST check out this debut middle-grade novel. I can’t wait to read more from Anna Rose!

Content warnings: None

The Green Ember

By S. D. Smith

It’s rabbits vs. wolves in this inspiring children’s fantasy

You’ll love it if you enjoyed Watership Down (or you’ve got kids who want an animal adventure with teeth)

I have a confession: I’m not a fan of animal protagonists. (I prefer people.) But I will say that this was a GREAT read-aloud for my boys, who thoroughly enjoyed the rabbity adventure. The first half of this book is too long and needs to be edited, but the second half really picks up. If you haven’t heard of S. D. Smith before, he’s hilarious and I dare you not to like him immediately.

Content warnings: There are some scary wolves and birds of prey that’ll be too much for the very, very young.

The Bears on Hemlock Mountain

By Alice Dalgliesh

Will Jonathan meet bears on Hemlock Mountain, even though his mom says he won’t?

You’ll love it if you want a lightning-fast read-aloud for young kids

This is a great early chapter book that my 7-year-old is reading right now in homeschool. It’s a super-simple story with a slow build of suspense—will there actually be bears???—and a wonderfully fun climactic moment. This reminds me a lot of Robert Clyde Bulla’s kids’ novels.

Content warnings: None

The Light at Tern Rock

By Julia L. Sauer

Can young Ronnie help his elderly aunt keep the lighthouse working in winter?

You’ll love it if you want a highly discussable Christmas book to read with youngsters over the holidays

What a gorgeous kids’ Christmas book! Not only are there beautiful black-and-white illustrations throughout, but the story. It’s complex without being complicated. My boys’ll need to be older to appreciate this, but I was thoroughly charmed.

Content warnings: None

The Door in the Wall

By Marguerite de Angeli

A young boy in Medieval times becomes a hero in spite of a physical handicap

You’ll love it if you want to empower a young man in your life with a tale of bravery

If you’ve got a kid who can’t get enough of knights, castles, or Ye Olde Britain, then this slim novel serves up a lot of historical flavor, and it has a wonderful message to boot. One day, young Robin, our protagonist, can no longer walk. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, he learns to find the next “door in the wall,” i.e. a way to pass through whatever barrier is stopping him from progressing in life. The first half of the book is somewhat slow, but the second half picks up, and the ending brings all the drama.

Content warnings: None

The Secret of the Hidden Scrolls: The Beginning (Book 1)

By M. J. Thomas

Kids time travel to Bible events

You’ll love it if you want your kids to get hooked on a chapter series that’s connected to the Bible

Remember the Magic Treehouse series? This is like the Christian version. A brother and sister time-travel back to Bible events. In this first book, they witness God create the world. They have a (somewhat silly) mission to complete. There are more books in the series with more missions. My opinion: just okay.

Content warnings: I wasn’t crazy about the mission the kids had to complete, which was to translate Hebrew writing on a scroll. It seemed like an arbitrary plot device and a little too derivative of Magic Treehouse. I don’t want my boys to think that God would ever leave them stranded up a creek without a paddle just because they couldn’t complete a random mission.

Book journal pages you can color

Love books AND colored pencils? Then these printable book journal pages are for YOU. I designed them to be cheerful and nostalgic. Pop your email into the box below, and I’ll send you the FREE printables.

More along these lines…


  1. Anonymous

    Hi Michelle!

    • Michelle Watson

      I love this, Linda! What a great idea to leave books in certain spots in the house. I also love that your copy of Pollyanna is inscribed. Wuthering Heights wasn’t my favorite, so I don’t think you’re missing out too much (haha), but I do love fragile, battered copies of the classics. Thank you so much for linking to me!


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