What I’m Reading: January Book Reviews

Every month I do quick reviews of the books I’ve read. I LOVE to read, but have very specific tastes and am a highly sensitive reader, so for years I just read non-fiction and middle-grade novels (with Hunger Games and the like, large portions of YA entered territory too stressful or graphic for me.)

I like and can highly recommend nearly every thing I read, because I (finally) learned how to pick good books for myself.

It took me years to learn what I like and don’t like in books, and to make peace with why I read and what I like to read (as an English major, I wish I liked more “important” and less “fluffy” fiction, but I’ve decided to let myself off the hook for that. Who decides what is fluffy and what is important anyway? And why is so much that is labeled “women’s fiction” also considered fluffy, even when it is about important subjects?)

I am still trying to stretch and grow as a reader, and we all need to push against the attention span our brains are being trained into by the internet and social media. But I had nearly quit reading because I didn’t feel OK about reading what I wanted to read, and when I did, I didn’t know how to find it.

So: If you’re looking for negative reviews, you usually won’t find them from me. I only read things I’m relatively sure I’m going to enjoy. I have a limited amount of time to read, and I don’t want to waste it with something that isn’t for me.

I’m also nearly always reading at least 3 (often more) books: An audio book, a non-fiction, and a fiction. This month I returned to a beloved audiobook series, read a FANTASTIC Christian memoir, finally finished the non-fiction book I’ve been reading over many months, and fought my way through a great fiction book that wasn’t as much a-book-for-me as I would hope (but it was good and I think many of you will enjoy it more than I did!)

Quick January Book Reviews

We started the year with some bitterly cold January weather, which makes me want to curl up in my warm house with a good book or some fun yarn. I was able to combine those two, I crocheted a blanket for a friend’s baby shower and got a couple of Maisie Dobbs books on audiobook from the library.

img_2193Pardonable Lies (Maisie Dobbs #3), by Jacqueline Winspear

Maisie Dobbs is a former WWI nurse, now trying to adjust to post-war (and post-tragedy) life as a private investigator in London. To solve the mysteries Maisie faces in each book, she uses a combination of intelligence, observation, and psychology. The third book in the series might be my favorite so far, sending Maisie to France and into her own past to face her grief and trauma. All the Maisie Dobbs books include multiple mysteries, I enjoyed the way the various storylines intertwined in Pardonable Lies.

img_2191Messenger of Truth (Maisie Dobbs #4), by Jacqueline Winspear

Most series get a little repetitive for me, over time, and I started to feel this with Messenger of Truth. I enjoyed the story and the mysteries, and I learned some things about WWI in this book that I didn’t know. But I decided to take a break from Maisie after this. Two at a time seems to be all I am interested in, but I know I’ll go back to Maisie’s story when I’m ready (because I enjoy these books, but also because the specter of WWII is looming, and I am interested to see what direction another war sends Maisie.)

If you like cozy mysteries, strong female protagonists, and WWI era Britain, you should check out Maisie Dobbs. I really love the audio books, they have a great narrator, and are easy to follow and engrossing.

 

img_2192Daring to Hope: Finding God’s Goodness in the Broken and the Beautiful, by Katie Davis Majors

I started Katie Davis’ latest memoir while we were traveling over the holidays, but found I needed to read it slow, almost like a devotional.

I read this expecting to hear the story of how Katie Davis became Katie Davis Majors, and I was not disappointed. It’s a lovely love story, but the real love story is between Katie and her Father God (Benji doesn’t even show up until near the end.)

I loved Kisses from Katie (both her first book and her blog, I love her writing and her heart), but Daring to Hope spoke to right where I am today. If you have big why questions, wonder about God’s goodness in this broken world, and think Jesus is (or wonder if He might be) the answer, I highly recommend this book.

“I desire to enter fully into the joy He places before us and I desire to enter wholly into the suffering He places before us because both can be His gifts to us . Both can be made beautiful . This is our daily bread .” – Katie Davis Majors

 

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Braving the Wilderness, by Brene Brown

I have been talking about reading this book since it came out and I bought it, but then not actually reading it. I started it, but had a rough time getting into it and committing to reading. Even though I have the hard cover, I finally used our audible credit this month and listened. SO GLAD I PUSHED THROUGH.

It took me a while to figure out what this book is about, because the wilderness metaphor doesn’t really connect with me. In case you are the same: This is a book about belonging. About how the drive toward fitting in keeps us from our real need to belong. About how to disagree and still belong to one another. About the difference between closeness based on fear and a common enemy, and real intimacy based on our connection with each other. About how we can be people of integrity whether we agree or disagree. It is a book about civility.  I like the second half better than I liked the first.

This could be a business book, as it has practical tips for bosses and employees. It is a political book that will help and piss off both sides of the political spectrum, but may also help us all find common ground in this divided and decisive world. And I am tempted to read it again, this time as a parenting book, thinking about how I can give my kids the gift of belonging.

I think BB’s other books build on each other and should be read in order (Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, then Rising Strong.) This one stands alone. You might benefit from it more if you have done the work in her earlier books, but it’s worth reading right now, whether you’ve read her other stuff or not.

 

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Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

I’m not big on historical fiction, and don’t tend to like WWII stories as much as most readers. But I asked for people’s top 3 books of 2017 in a Facebook reading group, and this was in many, many top 3s. It tells the based-on-true-stories of 3 women over the course of WWII and beyond. Caroline is a French American woman living in NY and working at the French embassy, dedicated to helping children orphaned by the unrest in France. Kasia is a Polish girl whose brief stint with the resistance lands her in Ravensbruck with her mother and sister. Herta is a German med school graduate who seeks the only medical position available to her – concentration camp doctor. Eek.

At 35% through, I said: “I don’t know, y’all. WWII books are so hard for my HSP brain (and it feels like ALL the books are WWII books…) Can I count this as read if I only read the Caroline chapters?? Someone tell me this is not going to give me nightmares…”

I did stick with it, and I’m so glad I finished (which I was able to do by skimming much of the Ravensbruck portions.) There is some rough subject matter here, but it is a great book. It also tells a true story from WWII that I did not know, about real things that happened to a large group of Polish women in Ravensbruck.

If you are like me, and hard subject matter is rough for you – know that this book tells a story that begins before Hitler’s invasion of Poland and lasts all the way to the Kruschev era, so it’s not all concentrations camps and horror. About half way through I was relieved to look ahead and see that I was nearly to the end of the Ravensbruck portion.

I loved the way the book alternates between the 3 women’s stories (it is not at all hard to keep track of whose story is whose). And I liked that while there is romance, none of it is unrealistic or wrapped up with a neat bow.


 

It was a good reading month, and (thanks to being stuck at home with two kids with influenza), I’ve already read two (FANTASTIC) books in February (this one wasn’t what I expected, but I loved it; and this one was pure self-care delight.)

Last night I started a non-fiction book that’s been on my list for AGES, and next I think I’ll tackle this super buzzy book I borrowed from a friend.