January is statistically my biggest reading month of every year. Something about the long, cold, and dark days inspire many more excuses to skip other things and curl up with a book instead. While I didn’t read as many books as I have in January’s past, I did still finish 14 – and most of them were fantastic! (And some of them were quite long!) I even read three nonfiction books! I have a lot of great recommendations for you today.
The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
Rating: 5* stars
This book has been on my radar since it first came out, mostly because I really loved the cover and it looked like a contending book for something Caden and I could both read. But because I don’t actually pick up middle grade almost ever (I just LOVE the covers!!) I never got around to starting it until the first of the year. It was on SO many top lists of 2020 that I just couldn’t justify ignoring it any longer. I could tell right from the start that this book was going to be very different from the type of book I normally read – or like. It was quirky and magical and just not my style. And to be honest, it probably took me 30% in before I was even sure I was interested. The only downside of this book is how slow the set up is. For this reason alone I’m not sure it’s a book Caden would read. He needs something to grab him from the first page. This wasn’t it. But I’m so glad I powered through because I ended up falling in love with it in the same way that so, so many other people did last year. This book truly is beautiful. It’s about an objective case worker who is in charge of checking on the orphanages filled with magical children that need to be monitored and kept away from regular society. He’s sent to a classified location to check in with the six most dangerous magical children and their mysterious caretaker. Throughout his month long stay, Linus, the caseworker, has many changes of heart as he learns that every child is worth loving and protecting, no matter the cost, no matter their challenges. The children were absolutely endearing and funny and I adored them all. This book just made my heart so happy. I loved it and all of the wonderful lessons it had to teach. I’m actually hoping to eventually get a hard copy so I can read it again and highlight all the passages that really spoke to me. It WAS beautiful and so worth the read.
The Year of Less by Cait Flanders
Rating: 5 stars
I’m determined to listen to more audiobooks this year. It’s a great thing to do while I work and a better option than watching tv because my eyes can just focus on my sewing and I’ll be much more productive! But I’ll also FEEL more productive by getting more books read! Win win. I picked this one first because it didn’t have a wait from the library and it’s a book I’ve kind of wanted to read for awhile, but hadn’t. It sounded like a book I needed, but also didn’t want to read because I love shopping. Why should I read a book that will make me feel guilty for it? Well, because maybe I NEED to feel guilty for it. This book is part memoir and part month by month accounting of how Cait was able to fulfill her year long shopping ban. I didn’t know who she was before, but she’s been a blogger for some time with a huge following and wanted to share some more personal accounts in the book that she never shared on her blog. Mainly how much she struggled with alcoholism. I definitely have never had that struggle, but I could still relate so well to everything she wrote about. An addiction is an addiction, no matter what it may be. Overall, I thought this was an excellent food for thought book to read, especially at the start of a new year. Am I inclined to start my own year long shopping ban? Well…no, not really. But am I inspired to make a whole lot of changes? Yes. Her story was inspirational and the audiobook was only about six hours long. Perfect for a day or two of pairing with all the mindless activities you have to do during the day!
What Kind of Woman by Kate Baer
Rating: 5 stars
I’m not usually a big fan of poetry, but every once in awhile a book is released that intrigues me enough to pick it up and give poetry another shot. And I’m usually surprised by how much I enjoy the different format. This book had so many rave reviews and it still managed to surprise me. Every poem is about different aspects of womanhood. And they’re all very abstract – another reason I rarely like poetry, but after awhile I was getting really into it. I felt a connection to so many of her words, which is always a pleasant surprise is this lonely life most of us our leading right now. I’ll definitely be picking this one up again and again in the future.
The Dating Plan by Sara Desai
Rating: 5 stars
This was my January BOTM pick mostly because I fell in love with the cover. (See a trend?) You don’t see many purple covers! I also didn’t realize that it was a pre-release so I read it two months before it came out. Exciting! 🙂 I didn’t realize that there was a book that technically came first, but this book does have all those little developed hints of side characters that have a story you should maybe already know. It’s definitely not necessary, but I enjoyed this book so much I plan on going back to read the first. Anyway, this was about Daisy, an Indian woman who stumbles across the boy she loved as a teenager but ghosted her at prom and disappeared for the next ten years. In a moment of haste she kisses him and calls him her fiance in order to avoid an awkward encounter with her ex-boyfriend and ex-boss. Right around the same time Liam finds out he’s come into an inheritance, but there are stipulations that he must be married by his next birthday in order to get the family business – and his birthday is in six weeks. The two of them concoct a plan to date for the next six weeks and then get married the day before his birthday to help each other out, no real feelings involved. Though of course there are plenty of feelings on both sides. Overall, I thought this book was really well developed and sweet. I loved all of the characters and felt their hesitations were well founded and realistic. The whole book was a joy to read.
A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas
Rating: 4 stars
This was kind of an odd sort of interim book where we catch up with everyone who is staying in the Night Court over the Winter Solstice. For some reason this book went beyond my notice until now, so it’s been quite awhile since I read the first three books and I spent half of this one trying to remember who all the characters were and what their relationships were to each other. That was so distracting and the beginning of this book was so NORMAL I had a really hard time understanding the point. But as it went on I really appreciated how Feyre was coming into her own as an artist and finding ways to help rebuild her community through art because it IS valuable. It also seemed kind of weird to write about, but I loved how much of this book was devoted to what everybody was going to give everyone else for Solstice gifts. After all the action in the third book, it was deeply surprising how little happened in this one. But I’m glad I read it to get a refresher for the next book coming out next month!
This Close to Okay by Leesa Cross-Smith
Rating: 3 stars
Tallie is a therapist who is driving home from work and sees a man about to jump off a bridge. She pulls over and convinces him to come back home with her where they spend three days together, mostly just sitting around and talking. I was intrigued by the premise of this book, but ended up finding the whole thing kind of boring. Maybe I like plot driven books more than I thought, since it was really missing in this story. Both Tallie and Emmett have their own secrets that they keep from each other while also getting closer in other ways. And of course those secrets eventually come out. What bothered me about this book was that I just couldn’t see a therapist actually acting the way that Tallie did. I feel like no matter what the first thing she would have done would have gotten him to a hospital to help. Not bring him back home with her. It was just so odd to me. I didn’t hate the book or anything, it just was very slow.
Wintering by Katherine May
Rating: 4.5 stars
Wintering is the concept of understanding parts of your life are going to be cold and low and quiet and slow. It’s about more than the actual seasons, though that can be part of it as well. But it’s really about the ups and downs of life and learning to accept the bad along with the good and find ways to appropriately get yourself through them and find things to enjoy in the process. Of all years to hear this message, this is the one. It’s sort of a memoir and sort of an encouraging outlook on making the most of the hard parts of your life. It was also a little bit sad. I identified strongly with the author as most of her wintering seasons included mysterious physical ailments and losing herself to motherhood. I feel like those things are relatable to so many people. There were a few chapters that I just didn’t connect with as well, but for the most part I was greatly intrigued and couldn’t wait to keep picking this one up again.
Dear Rachel Maddow by Adrienne Kisner
Rating: 3.5 stars
Brynn is a 17 year old who is really struggling in both school and life after her brother OD’s, her mom and stepdad treat her like crap, and her girlfriend breaks up with her. As a school assignment she’s supposed to write to one of her heroes, so she chooses a news anchor that she strongly admires. She then spends the rest of the school year writing unsent emails to Rachel Maddow, using the talk to text feature to get all of her feelings out on the screen. I picked this book up because as you know I love epistolary novels. This one was a bit different since there was nobody ever responding, or even receiving her emails. But the whole thing still reads like a novel. I enjoyed Brynn and her spunk, but the story is honestly quite depressing. I thought it was a good read, but it wasn’t really what I emotionally needed this month that’s already been filled with enough doom and gloom.
The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany by Lori Nelson Spielman
Rating: 4 stars
For two hundred years there has been a curse in the Fontana family where the second daughter of every family will never find love and marriage. Some second daughters have actively tried to fight the curse and have been met with sorrow. Other daughters, like Emilia, have used the curse as an excuse to not even try to find love and happily go about living on her own, even when her family walks all over her. This book is about a trio of second daughters who take a trip to Italy together in order to break the curse on Great Aunt Poppy’s 80th birthday. Overall, I enjoyed this book and found it pleasant. I liked it while I was reading it, but I wasn’t captivated by it. It did get better as it went along, but it was a pretty slow moving story. They didn’t even leave for Italy until about halfway through and that’s when things picked up. It was a good book, just perhaps a bit more literary than what I tend to pick up and was harder for me to really lose myself in.
The Invitation by Vi Keeland
Rating: 5 stars
Stella and her best friend Fisher decide to crash a swanky wedding pretending to be her no good ex-roommate. There she meets Hudson, who is intrigued by her – until he finds out she’s not who she says she is. Deciding to apologize to the bride, she ends up getting into business with Hudson and his sister as they help her grow her new perfumery business. And of course the two of them inevitably become closer. I really liked this book. This is maybe the third or fourth Vi Keeland I’ve read in the last few months and she’s quickly becoming a favorite. Stella and Hudson were both genuinely fantastic and kind characters who had a lot of depth and a believable and sweet love story. I had a hard time putting this one down.
The Wrong Family by Tarryn Fisher
Rating: 3 stars
This is marketed as a thriller, but I wouldn’t go into this book thinking you’re going to get a lot of action. It’s about a family of three with plenty of secrets and disdain for each other that live in a big house with too much room. Juno, an elderly homeless ex-therapist ends up living in their house with them – but they don’t know it. The story follows Juno and Winnie, the wife/mother of the family, as they go about their daily lives, striving to keep their own secrets. This book was interesting in the fact that it was amazing someone could live for so long in a house without three other people even knowing it. But also – not very much happens for the majority of the book. I was intrigued, but ultimately not that impressed.
Whiteout by Adriana Anders
Rating: 3.5 stars
I was in the mood for something that felt seasonally appropriate after weeks of very cold weather. Getting stuck in Antarctica with only a tent and barely any food? Seemed to fit the bill! My like for this book went up and down. The beginning? Kind of confusing and hard to understand what was going on. The middle? LOVED IT. The end? Rushed through with a pretty annoying cliffhanger. It felt like the middle of the story – when they were in the elements just trying to survive – was very well thought out and written perfectly. And then the author had to concoct a larger story around that wonderful middle. Overall, I had a hard time putting this down, I just wish parts of it felt more developed or explained. It could have been great with some extra polishing.
Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey
Rating: 4.5 stars
This is definitely a book you need to listen to on audio. Matthew McConaughey is VERY entertaining in the reading of his own book, giving the whole thing a bit of a theatrical element that would never come through on the page. It was a joy to listen to. One thing that struck me again and again while listening to this is that how much he loves LIFE. I listened to Bryan Cranston’s audiobook a few months ago and the biggest message I got out of that one is how much he loved acting. Matthew? He loves LIFE. It was a great message that pulled through the chapters as it’s inspirational to anyone, not just people who’d like to be actors themselves. The only reason I marked it down half a star is that many of the beginning chapters talk about some of the abusive behaviors his parents had, and how he totally agrees with how he was disciplined. It was off-putting how many times he brought this up and I had a hard time getting past it. But I did really enjoy everything else about the book! It’s a great listen.
Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon
Rating: 5 stars
Shay is going on her tenth year as a producer for a public radio station when high and mighty fresh from grad school Dominic shows up and starts getting air time right from the start – something she’s dreamed of since she was a kid. They immediately clash around the same time the station is desperate for a new show to up their ratings. They come up with a show where two exes will talk about what it’s like to stay friends after a breakup. And who better to play the part than Dominic and Shay? Despite how uncomfortable they both are with building a show on a lie, they reluctantly agree and begin hosting an immensely popular talk show while also finding some real feelings in the midst of it all. I really loved this book. It was an office romance, but with both partners on relatively equal footing and not one of the stereotypical tropes. Both characters had a lot of depth and fantastic chemistry. It did take me a couple of chapters to get into it, but I was hooked after that. Highly recommend!