One month into my new year, and I’m already a lighter reader than I was at any point in 2014. I’ve read six books in January–not as many as some other people (and probably not even as many as I read last January, high from the adrenaline of my Goodreads challenge). I can’t say that they were all lifechanging books (although some of them were), but they were certainly all enjoyable. I enjoyed the process of reading: turning pages, snuggled on the couch, tea in hand; trying to fit in one more page before the day started (or ended). Here’s a rundown of January’s crop, starting with my favorites.
Tied for Favorite:
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
I don’t have a good reason for waiting this long to read Brown Girl Dreaming. I wish I did. I’d seen it touted on Twitter, seen people reverently sending each other their copies. I read about the National Book Award controversy, and read Woodson’s powerful response. But for some reason I resisted actually reading the book until our excellent librarian ordered several copies for a book club. I like to read the book club books a little early so I can tout them to my students, so I grabbed a copy when it first came in. Barely two poems in, I knew I’d be ordering my own. Woodson’s memoir in poetry tells the story of her childhood in Ohio, South Carolina, and my beloved Brooklyn. It was the kind of book I could immediately see using in the classroom (I’m using one of the poems as a mentor text on Friday). But more than that, it was the kind of book I immediately loved. Brown Girl Dreaming is equal parts Song of Solomon and The House on Mango Street, and at the same time unlike anything I’ve read recently. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
I also loved Anthony Doerr’s historical novel All the Light We Cannot See. I actually started this book in December, but didn’t have the concentrated reading time to actually sit down and read it. When we had no school last week because of the blizzard that wasn’t, I settled in and finished all 530 pages in two snowy days. Doerr writes two narratives–that of Marie-Laure, a blind French girl caught in the town of Saint Malo on the French coast during the final days of German occupation, and of Werner, a German engineering prodigy who finds himself hunkered down in the same town. I tend to like historical fiction, and I particularly tend to like historical fiction about World War II (I even participated in a short-lived but awesome World War II book club), so this novel, which has been on the top of many critics’ best of 2014 lists, seemed like a natural fit. It was wonderful; Doerr immerses you in Marie-Laure’s world, painting her as a realist character and avoiding the treacly cliches that can come with having a handicapped character. The glimpses into Nazi Germany through Werner’s story provided excellent counterpoint to Marie-Laure’s Parisian childhood. I loved the cast of supporting characters, including Etienne, Marie-Laure’s reclusive uncle. The novel is loosely set around a jewel heist (for lack of a better term), involving a valuable gem Marie-Laure’s father is tasked with hiding from the Nazis as they invade France. This spine provided just enough suspense to differentiate All the Light We Cannot See from other stories of war. I loved it.
Midnight in Europe by Alan Furst
My husband got me this one for Christmas because of my deep-seeded love of World War II and Paris (see above). It tells the story of Cristian Ferrar, who is working against Franco during the Spanish Civil War. I liked a lot about this book: it was well-paced, gave lots of historical background on things I didn’t really know, and painted a great picture of Europe on the cusp of war. The characters were a little flat, but for a spy novel it was an enjoyable read.
Love, Rosie by Cecelia Ahern
I read this book for two reasons: I read about it in O Magazine (and if Oprah says it, I do it), and it was on sale on my Nook. It’s definitely a light read, but I finished it in one day and it hit the spot. Love, Rosie is an epistolary novel (another favorite genre) about Rosie and Alex, childhood best friends who obviously should be together but just can’t seem to get the timing right. It was fluffy and sweet and a cute read. Not life-changing, but definitely entertaining.
The Care and Management of Lies by Jacqueline Winspear
It’s not that I didn’t like this book. I did like it. I just didn’t really like it. I’ve read Winspear’s Masie Dobbs series and really enjoyed those, so I guess I just expected more out of this one. Set during World War I, The Care and Management of Lies tells the story of Kezia and Thea, childhood best friends whose lives abruptly change when war breaks out. Kezia is left on the home front while Thea, her best friend, and her husband (also Thea’s brother) both go to war. I liked Winspear’s writing, but there were places where the story dragged–it almost felt like Winspear lost sight of why she was writing what she was writing. I think a lot of this had to do with the fact that this was an audio listen. I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more if I’d read it, but I listened to it in a mad-dash effort to reach my goal in 2014. Lesson learned.
I didn’t review the last book I read this month, We’ll Always Have Summer by Jenny Han. It was a reread because some of my students were finishing up the wonderful Summer I Turned Pretty series and I got an itch to reread the last book. It was a delightful experience.
So that was January, a pretty fruitful month! What are your January reads? Any plans for February?