I'm a December baby, born close enough to Christmas that my birthday gifts were often wrapped with holiday paper and tucked under the tree. Birthday/holiday intersections can be tricky to navigate (and there's no way to have a party this time of year without it being at least a little Christmassy) and I think that's why it's always my preference to take this month one day at a time. I never want it all to smush down into a blur of holiday rush.
It's also why I have no desire to discuss my favorite books of the year until the year is actually over. There are many more books for me to read in 2023. More favorites to find.
That said…I want to talk to you about one book I finished months ago and is a definitely favorite for the year, but I needed sometime to process and stew it over before I could really discuss with you.
Before I Let Go by Kennedy Ryan. I've been trying to find a way to explain that this is a really f***ing excellent book since September and I think that's the must succinct way to put it. It's a f**ing excellent book and I wasn't even halfway through when I was trying to decide if it was too soon to beg Kennedy for an early look at the next in the series. And the next after that one.
One of things I love about Kennedy's work is the truth in every fiber of it. These are honest stories about real people. These are big girl stories, you know? You read these books when you're ready for a big girl journey that's woven, inch by inch, into a complex tapestry of heart, gravity, emotion, humor, mental health, society, duty, sex, and the kind of soul-deep love that feels like a living, breathing thing.
The less succinct way to put it: We meet Yasmen and Josiah about a year after their divorce and they're both grappling with the idea of moving on from their marriage now that they've emerged (as much as anyone can) from depression and grief following the loss of an aunt who was a mother figure and experiencing a stillbirth.
But they have two kids and live in the same neighborhood and they own a business together so there is no true parting of ways. Even when they both start dating.
From the very start, the tension between Yasmen and Josiah is delightful. We know there is SO MUCH THERE. We know they're both feeling it. We know they want it. But there's also so much heartbreak and loss, and they can't cross that river yet. This book really shines in all the big and small ways that cross that river toward each other.
We get real, difficult adult conversations. We get disagreements and hostility and some good old divorced people pettiness. We get coparenting mess and the children who love to make it messier (god help me Deja, that attitude of yours). We get an emotional journey that felt so f**ing real to me that sometimes I find myself wondering what Yasmen is doing right now or if she's still making her way through Aunt Byrd's cookbook. We get spice: angry spice, jealous spice, make-up spice, breakthrough in therapy spice--all of it.
Also remarkable: the true, deep, authentic female friendships in this book. So often I struggle to invest in or even believe some of the friendships I read, and that was not the case here. I immediately loved these women and just wanted to know everything about them.
Kennedy Ryan is known for intense, emotionally gripping reads though I want set the intensity high-water mark for this one. I'd place this in the same emotional intensity band as Abby Jimenez's books. There's loss and grief and heartache, but none of it is excessive, gratuitous, or trauma p*rn, and it's more about the emotional experiences than on-the-page witnessing of events.
Finally, I read this in audio and I have never loved a performance more than I loved Wesleigh Siobhan's narration of Yasmen. Wesleigh has a fan for life. I'm actually confused that everyone isn't screaming about how amazing her work is??? The nuance and skill on display from both Wesleigh and Jakobi Diem is unparalleled, and that feels like an inadequate statement. I even broke my “audio only during exercise” rule because I needed more of this story.
Hope you're doing well, my friend!
On the topic of holidays:
Around this time of year, I usually write a visit with one of my couples and share it here in my newsletter. I have a few ideas although my mind is very much tied up with the couple I'm working on now and is due to my editor right after the new year. If you'd like to cast your vote, do it here.
As if you need more book recs but I'm sure you do because we ALWAYS need more:
The Grip trilogy by the goddess Kennedy Ryan - falling for the brother's best friend ends with a broken heart turned second chance romance. It was fantastic albeit heartbreaking at times. Have tissues for the last book. KU!
Earbuds for small ears! I keep getting so many messages and questions I'm going to keep talking about my small ears. I prefer this set though I also have this slightly larger set. So relieved I'm not the only one physically incapable of using the majority of earbuds!
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