the sparkly life: The 12 Books I Read In January (Best and Worst!)

Friday, February 7, 2020

The 12 Books I Read In January (Best and Worst!)


Well, my January New Year, Old Books Challenge was a success! I am so glad I "forced" myself to finally read at least some of the books I already own and have been meaning to read forever. It felt good, and many of those books ended up being five-star reads for me! All in all, this month I read 12 books total, eight of them being "old" books (the other four were made up of three new audiobooks--a loophole I included since I had a backlog of new stuff on audiobooks, and one new ARC that I had to get through for a swap. That was my one cheat. Oops.)

Here's exactly what I read this month, separated into books I loved (my biggest category--yay!), liked a lot, was just okay for me, and could have done without. 

LOVED

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance - I loved this book so much! It's the epic tale of Weylyn Grey, a strange but endearing little boy who we follow from his time as a young orphan living with wolves (yes, really!) to his later years as a hermit in the woods. The book is told through multiple perspectives, which I really liked, and it's chock full of incredible characters, magic, wonder, and love. I absolutely adored this book. It reminded me a lot of The Heart's Invisible Furies meets A Prayer for Owen Meany, and I don't know if it gets better than that. A highly recommended must-read. 

Dark Matter - Blake Crouch's most recent book (Recursion) was, hands down, one of the best things I read in 2019, so I knew I wanted to go back and read his previous book, which I had been told had similar themes. Now it's almost impossible to give a summary of either book without giving anything away, but let's just say: If you loved Recursion, you will love this, too. It's a completely different book, but very much in the same vein (time-travel-y/alternate universe/mind-bending in the best way). Truly unputdownable, I devoured it in less than 24 hours, and it left me with that same "OMG that was such a wild ride" feeling as Recursion

Bel Canto - The Dutch House was another one of my absolute favorite reads of 2019, and ever since finishing it, I've made it my mission to go back and read everything else Ann Patchett has written. So this was the second Patchett I've ever read, and it definitely did not disappoint! To be honest, I was nervous about this one, because though everyone raves about it (literally a stranger saw me reading it in a ski lodge and came up to me to gush about it!), the premise just did not appeal to me. The summary: In an unnamed South American country, a fancy party is being thrown at the vice president's home when suddenly, the party is interrupted by armed terrorists who quickly take everyone hostage. I was skeptical reading that summary, but I am so glad I took the plunge and read it. I loved it! Taking place entirely in the home, Bel Canto follows the hostages and captors during their standoff and it is ultimately a beautiful story of love, friendship, and human interaction. The characters are incredible and the writing is absolutely exquisite. 

Little Fires Everywhere - I started to listen to this years ago on audio, but never really got into it so I abandoned it. But everyone raves about it (and Hulu and Reese Whitherspoon are launching a TV version of it soon!), so I decided to get a copy from the library and give it another go. This time I read it in two days and loved it! It tells the story of two families living in the picture-perfect, planned community of Shaker Heights, Ohio: the Richardsons (led by mother Elena and her four children) and their tenants (single mom Mia, and her daughter Pearl). The book examines how their lives intersect once Pearl befriends the Richardson children--and then it takes a turn when a dramatic custody battle flips everyone's lives upside down. The characters are rich, surprising, and so well-developed, but there's still lots going on. I can't wait for the Hulu version now.

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things - I don't think I have ever had so many complicated feelings about a book in my entire life. I loved this book, but also hated it. (If you've read it, that probably makes sense!) It tells the story of Wavy, who we first meet as a child. She is nearly mute (by choice) and doesn't like to eat in front of others or be touched, because she has lived a very troubled life. Her mother battles addiction and mental illness, and is completely unfit. Her father is a drug dealer/manufacturer who is almost completely absent. She is moved around, written off, and ignored. So when Kellen, a man in his 20s who works for her father, takes an interest in her and wants to help her out (driving her to school, seeing that she has clothing, etc), it seems like a godsend. And that's where things start to get...complicated. The book is incredibly well written, nearly impossible to put down, and the characters are so vivid, but I was just not ok with the disturbing direction the story ended up going. It's ultimately a great book and a true page-turner, but just be prepared to be shocked--and very, very conflicted. (Side note: This is kind of the ultimate book club pick, because EVERYBODY will have opinions and you are DEFINITELY going to need to talk to someone after you finish it!) 


LIKED A LOT 

All Adults Here - Okay, this was my cheat book. It's not old. It was an ARC of Emma Straub's new book and it's launching in May. (Sue me. I'm only human!) The cheating was worth it though, because now I get to tell you: Get a jump on beach-read season and preorder this now! This smartly-written, character-driven novel tells the story of one family moving through life and zeroes in on so many issues related to sibling dynamics, parenting, grand-parenting, and more. I really liked Straub's writing (it reminds me a lot of Taffy Brodesser-Akner's writing). It's so sharp, funny, and real. You have to like character-driven novels to fully appreciate this one, I think, but if you do: It's a gem. 

Firefly Lane - Kristin Hannah has become one of my very favorite authors (The Nightingale and The Great Alone were two of the best books I read in 2019), but I had somehow never read this story of two women (Tully and Kate) who meet as young teens in the 70s and quickly become inseparable. We follow the two through their entire lives as they span the decades: from high school to college, career struggles to dream jobs, boyfriends to marriage, children, health, and family drama, and so much more. If I'm being honest, as I was reading most of the book, I didn't think I loved at as much as her past books. It was a page-turner, and I liked it, but I had the constant feeling that it was too long and didn't need to be as detailed as it was. But I was wrong, because by the end, I was fully invested. I absolutely bawled my way through the last few pages.

Saint X - Here's another brand new one  that I got an early peek at via my beloved Libro.fm. It comes out February 18th (but it wasn't a "cheat" because of my new-audiobooks-are-allowed loophole, ok? Lol.).  The story starts when seven-year-old Claire is on vacation with her family in the fictional Caribbean island of Saint X. At the tail end of the trip, her older sister Allison disappears and her body is found soon after. The first third or so of the book focuses on the mystery surrounding Allison's death, but the majority of the book revolves around Claire's life many years later as an adult. Her sister's death still colors everything in her life, and when she randomly comes face to face with one of the suspects in her sister's murder, the story takes an unexpected turn. I wasn't sure how I felt about this book for much of it. It was much less "thriller" than I expected (it's more of a human drama), but that's not the book's fault--that was my own mistaken expectations. And though I didn't love a lot of the middle section, I loved the beginning, and did really like how everything came together in the end, so all in all, I would recomemnd it. 


JUST OKAY

Elevation - I listened to this on audio, and chose it because it sounded interesting and also because it was short! I love Stephen King, but this was not my favorite. (That said, I'm probably being too hard, because my expectations were high because it was King!) I definitely didn't dislike it, but I didn't love it. And with King, I want to love it! :) There are two short stories included in the book. The main one is about a man who is facing a strange afflication: He is rapidly losing weight. No one knows why, no one can stop it. Again, not my favorite, but worth considering if you're looking for something very short and quick!

The Third Rainbow Girl - I love true crime, so I was really excited to get this brand new book on audio from Libro.fm. It was truly just okay for me though. (Not bad, but not great.) It tells the true story of two young women mysteriously killed in rural West Virginia in 1980. (They were on their way to a hippie-ish festival called the Rainbow Gathering, hence the title.) The author spent years living in the small town where the murders occurred and spends the book looking back at the crime and the many suspects. I did like that part. Where she lost me though was when she links the crime with the current troubles of West Virginia, and with her own story. (The book is also a bit of a memoir.) I personally didn't feel the connections worked or were very compelling. I wish she had focused solely on the crime, but then it probably wouldn't have been long enough for a book. Basically, I would have loved this as a podcast.


COULD HAVE DONE WITHOUT

What Alice Forgot - I like Lianne Moriarty a lot, and have heard so many good things about this story of a woman who wakes up and can't remember the last decade (it's been lurking in my Kindle for years), but I was just so underwhelmed. I would have DNF'd this one early on, but I kept waiting for it to get good, and it just never did for me. (So many people love this one though, so keep that in mind!)

When Less Becomes More - I listened to this one on audio via Libro.fm, but it just didn't do it for me either. I felt like the author kept raising really smart questions ("why are women more overwhelmed and exhausted than ever?" "Why are we feeling more disconnected when we're more connected than ever?"), but then never really answered them. I wanted this book to be specific tips and things to do to clear through mental, digital, or physical clutter, and it just wasn't that. It was also very religious, which is not a knock on it--just wasn't what I was expecting.

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What did you guys read and love this month? And if you did the New Year, Old Books Challenge with me this month (and so many of you did--yay!), definitely let me know below!

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