What I Read in January
Is it too late to say Happy New Year? Either way, I hope your 2019 is off to a great start, especially your bookish life!
I’m kinda stunned to report I finished 20 books in January (which I’m pretty confident is a personal best) and most of them were fantastic!
I’ll keep my summaries shorter this year in these monthly wrap-up posts, and I included a little blurb to let you know which challenge category I’ve used a book for.
What I Read in January
Cockloft: Scenes From a Gay Marriage by Kyle Thomas Smith
A unique presentation of observational humor and personal anecdotes. We don’t get a lot of analysis or Smith’s insight into his observations, and that works well. His wit and smarts are obvious in what he chooses to share from his life, no explanation necessary. And so we also receive a bit of political and social commentary from what’s included. (Check out my recent interview with Kyle)
I am Watching You by Teresa Driscoll
A solid mystery/thriller, nothing groundbreaking, but was compelling the whole way through. There are a lot of characters, so at times it was tough to keep track of who’s who and where they are and what they’re doing. The audio book was a fast listen, great narrator. Overall, it was worth the time.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F–k by Mark Manson
Read for While I Was Reading Challenge category: A book with a curse word in the title It’s rare that a personal development book is engaging from the first page to the last. Manson’s guidance is insightful and inspiring while remaining realistic. The message here makes a lot of sense, and his casual approach makes it more accessible than most other formats/authors.
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal
Read for The Country Bookshelf Challenge category: A book about an unfamiliar culture Yes, the widows’ kinky stories are an important part of their journey as characters, but they distract from the main plot, and slow it down. A sentence here and there would have been enough to get the kinkiness across. Instead, I found the inclusion of the entire story every time made the book drag on. With that said, it’s definitely a novel worth reading. The characters are well developed and lovable, even when they aren’t acting their best. It gave me an insightful view of a culture which is far different from my own.
The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker
Advanced copy from NetGalley, published January 15, 2019 Read for the PopSugar Challenge category: Takes place on a college campus This stunning novel had me drawn in from start to finish. Appropriately, Walker’s sparse yet thoughtful writing style combined with a fast pace, gives the story a dreamy quality. We follow several different families as their lives are affected and intertwined when their town is overrun by a virus which puts the ill into a deep sleep.
Sadie by Courtney Summers
For the While I Was Reading challenge category: A book with a one word title I listened to the audiobook, and I can’t image having as powerful of a reaction to it if I’d read a physical copy. The audiobook has stunning-high production, obviously done with great care. The podcast feels real, and the way the show alternates with Sadie’s narrative draws the reader in, and creates a heartbreaking drama for us, because we have more information than any of the characters. The podcast element gives the characters a chance to show their personalities, and are incredibly genuine.
The Second Wife by Sheryl Browne
Advanced copy from NetGalley, expected publication January 29, 2019 I was ready to quit at 20% in, but it was worth sticking with. The final 30% flew by, keeping me awake at night! The writing is simple and the characters are unrealistic. The benefits of that are a story that moves with a super fast pace and doesn’t require a lot of intellectual investment from the reader. There is always a time and place for entertaining novels like this. Although I will add, there’s quite a bit of grossly graphic sex stuff that didn’t feel necessary to the plot.
Birds of Pray by Rob Maaddi
For the While I Was Reading Challenge category: A memoir/biography of a celebrity you like The writing style is fairly simply, making for a quick easy read. The author has reported on Philly sports for decades, his knowledge and commitment to his craft are obvious. While the Christianity component is prominent, it isn’t forceful. While I don’t share their faith, I respect it and I admire the principles these players hold themselves to and each other. The Eagles’ story also includes general sports history, and Philly history. I learned a lot about football, as well as got to know several of the players.
Believe Me by JP Delaney
For the PopSugar Challenge category: A book with a two word title This novel is a wild ride! I listened to the audio book, which has high production, cut scenes, and multiple fantastic narrators. I can’t imagine it would comes across the same way in print. I had no idea what was going on the entire time, and I loved every second of it! Just when I thought I had a grasp of what was going on, I’d learn something new that knocked me off course.It’s hard to find a mystery/thriller that catches me off guard these days, and this one did an unbelievable job!
No Waste Kitchen Gardening by Katie Elzer-Peters
Advanced copy from NetGalley, published December 2018 For the Country Bookshelf challenge category: A book to learn a new skill This is an awesome book all around! The pictures throughout are fantastic. She starts with the very basics of botany and gardening, so the reader has an understanding of how plants grow and what we’re trying to accomplish with gardening. The writing style is simple and instructional while conveying the author’s obvious passion for gardening and the techniques explained here. Once this book is published, I’ll definitely want a physical copy to keep in my kitchen for reference.
The Girl Before by JP Delaney
For the PopSugar challenge category: A book told from multiple POV’s I definitely had to suspend my disbelief in order to slide into this world. When I’m able to do it, that’s the sign of a great story. Several different angles come together in a delicious way. One of the primary characters is a house, which is weird and cool at the same time. The house also comes equipped with fascinating technology that allows it to “learn” about the occupants. The writing isn’t top notch, but it’s all put together skillfully, to create decent mystery and drama.
My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
For the PopSugar Challenge category: A book by an author Asia, Africa, or South America For such a short novel, there is so much going on here! We have two sisters who are extremely different from each other, and rarely agree on anything. One of them has an unfortunate habit of killing her boyfriends, and the other comes running to clean up her messes. This is a smart novel. It’s not only about the sisters as they are now. We’re given glimpses into the past to learn how they got there. It’s also a witty novel, although the humor isn’t always in your face. It’s dark and there’s a lot of commentary snuck in, about social media in relation to relationships and self-image. It’s a unique book that provides an entertaining yet thought-provoking reading experience.
The Witch Doesn’t Burn in This One by Amanda Lovelace
For the Country Bookshelf Reading Challenge category: A sequel While the style is the same as her last work, this one has a different tone, an angrier vibe. I appreciate that Lovelace’s poems aren’t wordy. Her power lies in the exact words she chooses to use, since there aren’t many. And while I use the word angry, it’s in positive way. This collection is a call to action to women, to anyone who has been used or abused.
Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller
For the PopSugar challenge category: A book with salty, sweet, bitter, or spicy in the title My favorite book of the month! This one is definitely a slow burn. It took a while to get into, then we learn so much about the three main characters and the author does a spectacular job of twisting many loose threads together. The novel has an eerie feel to it, as if it were written decades ago and set in a previous century (instead of published last year and set in 1969.) The writing is fully sensory and emotionally complex, fully immersing the reader in a different time ad place.
A Stranger in the House by Shari Lapena
My first dud of the year! There’s nothing wrong with the writing here, though it isn’t spectacular. The story was predictable and I disliked all of the characters. I almost quit a couple times but I stuck it out because I was curious as to how it would all wrap up. Well, that wasn’t worth my time.
The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwan
For the PopSugar Challenge category: A debut novel *Note: I recommend this one in print, as opposed to audio book, which is how I read it. The writing style is “artsy,” which took some getting used to. The story is fascinating, and for a short novel, there’s a great deal of action, both literally and metaphorically.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Otessa Moshfegh
For the While I Was Reading Challenge category: A book by an author you haven’t read before This is a complicated novel. Our unnamed narrator is a terrible human-being, though at the core of it all, she is suffering immensely. And who hasn’t contemplated creative ways to avoid their suffering? Not me! I have definitely thought, if only I could sleep through X negative event/emotion, I’d be okay. That’s the premise here, to a dangerously severe degree. This is not a hopeful story, and it’s a bit of a slog at times. But the writing is exceptional, these characters feel very real, and I found it worth it in the long run.
If My Body Could Speak by Blythe Baird
Advanced copy from NetGalley, expected publication February 5, 2019 For the PopSugar Challenge category: A book by an author whose first and last names start with the same letter This is a powerful collection of poems that any female will relate to. The writing is emotionally raw and forceful, the imagery is beautifully vivid and gut-wrenching. The tone of the collection is one of anger and healing. I especially appreciate how Baird makes it clear that poetry is the only stage where she feels safe talking about her personal experiences and the issues of rape, violence, and sexism. Her poems are very succinct, and point out the frequency with which these issues occur in our society, in our schools, in our families.
I’ll Be Your Blue Sky by Marisa de los Santos
For the PopSugar challenge category: A book with a plant on the cover or in the title This is a lovely addition to the Love Walked In series. I care about these characters and was happy to meet them again. Switching between two timelines of present day, and the 1950’s, we get a complex story of family and love. From those two viewpoints we get to know Edith and Clare, two very different women who end up having a great deal in common. As always, de los Santos’ writing is vivid and emotional. Her characters are genuine and likable. Here we have a house which, along with its landscape and former residents, plays an important role. This novel would likely work as a stand alone, however I can’t recommend the other two books enough!