January Reads

January 2016

It was a great start to the reading year for me. Every book I picked up was enjoyable in its own way. I predict that at least two of this month’s books will make my end-of-the-year list of favorites. 

The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain

J’adore this translated tale of a purse-snatching and persistent Good Samaritan. It’s a charming, light read perfect for anyone looking to brighten a long, dark winter day.

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

I loved this book and have spent the last ten minutes typing and deleting sentences trying to explain why. The stats on this book aren’t impressive: its plot seems uninspired (two lonely old people become friends in a small town), its prose is unadorned, and the author doesn’t use quotation marks. And yet, I loved each page of this novella-sized work that captures beautiful, heartbreaking truths about the human condition. I was crushed to read that Kent Haruf passed away last year. This is his final work and a worthy legacy.

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Ada, born with a club foot and a cruel mother, escapes London with her brother and finds an unexpected chance to be more than she imagined in the English countryside. I fell so deeply in love with the characters in this book, I was sad to close the final pages. Kimberly Bradley has the same gift I admire in Kate DiCamillo: the ability to write children’s books that do not water down the human experience or dull the sharp edges of strong emotions.  I think the abusive mother may be too much for my eldest just yet, but when the time is right I’ll definitely be reading him this heartbreaking but triumphant tale of kindness and courage.

I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios

Books told from two perspectives can be hit or miss for me. This one, told by two teens stuck a small California town, fell in the hit column. It’s the kind of book I like without knowing exactly why. I think it might be that Demetrios tells the story without sensationalizing the backdrop (war, amputation, PTSD, addiction, desperation). By making that choice, her background events pack even more of an emotional punch and the foreground story (friendship, love, self-discovery) feels more authentic.

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

Originally written anonymously, we now known this collection of advice columns was written by Cheryl Strayed. I listened to this as an audio book. I was moved to tears more than once and inspired to be both a better human and a better writer by the compassion and authenticity Strayed weaved into her responses.

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Like David Rakoff’s Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish, this book is written in verse. Unlike Rakoff’s book, this Newberry Medal and Coretta Scott King Award winner is written for children. I’m not a sports novel enthusiast, but the novelty of the form kept me turning pages. I was enjoying the fun, entertaining and stylistic ride, and then, about 200 pages in, there was a chapter composed entirely of questions that punched me in the gut. The tear in my eye made me realize that Alexander had me more invested in the book’s characters than I’d given him credit for.

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