In My Library Tote: January Book Reviews and Recommendations

I've been trying to find the best way to share my monthly book round-ups. After having a few months where I read five books each month, I got hung up on sharing five books per month. It seemed like a nice number and made my graphic look nice and Pinterest-y. However, I don't always read five books a month, and as a result I ended up with a lot of unblogged books in 2017. (Oh, the tragedy!) I'm going to go back to sharing what I actually read each month, no matter the number. I also share my books on Instagram using #shealennonreads so you can follow me there as well.

{what I read in January}

{Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward} Starting off the month with this beautiful mic-drop of a novel really did me in. It was a tough act to follow, and while I'd like to think each book should stand alone, there's no doubt that timing does play a role in how I feel about what I read. Anyway, Sing, Unburied, Sing has so many layers; Jesmyn Ward does an amazing job of giving a rich big-picture setting, while at the same time putting you right in the middle of the day to day struggles of Jojo and his family. Her characters are so well-developed, and the multiple perspectives add complexity and nuance to the relationships she describes. Even with a ghost added into the mix of drug-addicted mother, fresh out of prison father, and terminally ill grandmother, Ward's story is relatable and rooted in reality--and not the hot mess that such a mix might suggest. My rating: 4/5 stars. 

{This Must Be the Place by Maggie O'Farrell} I don't know if it was the gloomy weather or what, but I was drawn to dark, heavy books in January. I know not everyone likes a story told from multiple perspectives, but I love it when it's done well, which it was in This Must Be the Place. If you like a complicated family drama, you'll get your fill here.  It centers around the relationship between Daniel and Claudette, both of whom bring copious amounts of baggage, a few secrets, and children, to their relationship. Things get messy, as they do, and the strength of their relationship is tested again and again. This is a great novel to cozy up with on a cold winter day. However, if you like cheerful stories with endings tied up in a bow, you may want to skip this one. My rating: 3.5/5 stars.

{Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders} I listened to this on audio and I'm glad I did; it was quite a performance with over 160 narrators, including Susan Sarandon, Ben Stiller, and Don Cheadle. I am not an auditory learner, so there were times that I had trouble following the story-line. However, the beauty of the writing and the talent of the narrators more than made up for that. I'm actually going to go see George Saunders at a local bookstore and library event next week, so I plan to pick-up the (newly released) soft cover copy so I can get it signed. I'd like to read the book version as soon as I can to help me piece together what I listened to; I wish I had been able to follow along as I listened. It is definitely different from anything I've read before. Fitting in nicely with my "dark and gloomy" theme this month, it takes place in the "bardo", the Buddhist concept of the place between death and rebirth, where Willie Lincoln, the president's 11 year old son, has just come. It is narrated by the ghosts near Willie's grave, but the story is also interspersed with details about the historical context of this time in Lincoln's life. I thought it was so creative and well done. My rating: 3.5/5 stars (but I imagine that may go up when I read the actual book and understand it better). 

{Glitter and Glue by Kelly Corrigan} This is another one that I listened to this month. As I mentioned, I sometimes struggle with audio books and lose the story because I'm multitasking or daydreaming. I think I've found my audio book solution in memoirs; I absolutely loved listening to this on audio and had no trouble following along. Called Glitter and Glue because Corrigan's mother always told her "your father is the glitter, and I am the glue", and in this memoir she explores what her mother meant by that. Like most of us, Corrigan had a certain idea of who her mother was, but when she became a nanny for grieving siblings who lost their mother, her perspective shifted. As she took on a mothering role, she saw her mother in a new light and recognized her mother's humanity. This is a familiar story for many I'm sure, but she tells it with the perfect mix of humor, nostalgia, and poignancy. Memoirs have been hit or miss for me lately, but this is one I recommend. My rating 3.5/5 stars. 

{The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald} I read this for the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2018 Reading Challenge for "a classic you've been meaning to read". For the longest time I thought I had read this, but I recently realized that it was Tender is the Night that I read, not this classic. I can see why high school English classrooms across the country read this: there is so much to discuss in such a short novel. Gatsby's self-made persona fascinated me, as did the relationship between Tom and Daisy. I thought the narrator's perspective was interesting as well; he came across as though he were a bit above all the shenanigans of the company he kept, yet I saw him just as enamored with Gatsby's lifestyle as anyone else. I can't say I loved this for the sake of the story or the characters (I was hard pressed to find any I liked), but I enjoyed the depth of this classic and I'm glad I read it. My rating: 3.5/5 stars. 

{In the Woods by Tana French} This was the fifth Tana French novel I've read but it was her first, kicking off her Dublin murder squad series. In it, Rob and his partner Cassie investigate the murder of a 12 year old girl, who died in the woods near Rob's childhood home. This case stirs up memories for Rob, as he witnessed two of his best friends disappear from those very woods and to this day has no memory of what happened. As usual for a Tana French novel, I was sucked in and couldn't predict the twists and turns of the mystery at the heart of the story. However, compared to the others of hers that I loved (Faithful Place and The Secret Place are my favorites), this one left me with too many loose ends. I hated the turn that Rob and Cassie's partnership took, and I also didn't like the way we got a hint of Rob's memory being jarred just to have him run away from the possibility of remembering. Maybe my main issue was that I just didn't like Rob as a character. All that being said, I do really like Tana French as an author and while it wasn't my favorite of hers, it was still worth the read. My rating: 3/5 stars. 

{The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking} I know, I know, hygge is so 2017. Just kidding. Kind of. Doing Live Your Best Holiday Life with Alexandra in November and December made me want to read this, as it's one she recommended. I thought it was such a fun gift-able book that offered practical ways to bring more hygge ("hoo-ga", it essentially means coziness) into your life wherever you are. I enjoyed Wiking's "hygge tips" and the cute and colorful illustrations. I feel like this would be a great book to give anyone in your life who appreciates home and coziness. My rating 3/5 stars. 

{Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist} Part memoir, part personal development handbook, Present Over Perfect is Niequist's story of how she slowed down the frenzied pace of her life and started to value herself for who she was and not what she did. I thought she shared some fantastic insights and her advice is very relevant to the go-go-go, productivity-focused world that we live in. There were certainly passages that reminded me that I could do a much better job of slowing down and living for life's sake rather than my to do list's. For me it felt very similar to Chasing Slow by Erin Loechner that I read last year, and for some reason that one really spoke to me more. I still recommend this one, I just didn't experience that same inspiration and invigoration the way I did with Loechner's story. It all goes back to the idea that a book really should stand alone, but at the end of the day I can't help but compare books that have similar (to me) feels. My rating: 3/5 stars. 

And there you have it, my 8 books of January. Have you read anything good lately? Also, if you have any input on how you like to see reading reviews/recaps I'm all ears! 

Linking with Show Us Your Books and Modern Mrs. Darcy

1 comment:

I really appreciate hearing from you!