January Wrap-Up: My Favorite Reads of the Month
My very favorite books from January!
Aaaaaand here we are in February! It's fair to say that January somehow both lasted ten years and got away from me.
My favorite reads of the past month include, in no particular order:
The Maid, Nita Prose's recently published mystery with an intriguing main protagonist and lots of sweetness;
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, the first in Becky Chambers's science fiction series about a big-hearted, ragtag space crew's adventures;
Festival Days, Jo Ann Beard's fascinating collection of short stories and essays;
Dolly Parton, Songteller, Dolly's behind-the-scenes peeks at her inspirations, influences, approach, pushing the limits, and storytelling through song;
The Last Green Valley, historical fiction based on the real story of a family escaping through Eastern Europe at the cruel end of World War II; and
Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves, Meg Long's debut young adult science fiction about a wolf and a gritty young woman's desperate journey across a frozen planet.
I'd love to hear: what are some of your recent favorite reads?
01 The Maid by Nita Prose
Nita Prose offers a surprising amount of heart and a unique main protagonist in this lighthearted murder mystery, her debut novel.
In Nita Prose's recent novel The Maid, main protagonist Molly finds a hotel guest dead in his room, and her access to the room, her eccentric manner, and other's manipulations of her innocent vulnerability may mean that she's the prime suspect.
Prose has built an interesting premise with Molly as an unreliable main protagonist.
I was concerned that Molly's unique set of idiosyncrasies might allow for too-easy deception, and also that seeing others take advantage of Molly's innocence would make for nerve-racking, uncomfortable reading.
But Prose allows for some surprises, and Molly seems more than capable of extricating herself from suspicion by using the very same personal qualities that have led others to underestimate her.
For my full review, check out The Maid.
02 The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers #1) by Becky Chambers
Chambers's science fiction is full of heart, heartbreak, and hope--with a fascinating backdrop of space travel and interspecies relations.
In The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, the first science fiction title in Becky Chambers's Wayfarers series, young Rosemary feels lucky to have landed the job of clerk for the quirky, ragtag, but welcoming crew of the Wayfarer ship.
Just as she's adjusting to life on board, the crew gets a lucrative opportunity: to tunnel wormholes through space to a distant planet. But things quickly take a turn as pirates and other dangers threaten the makeshift family on the Wayfarer. They each have reasons to mistrust other creatures, but they have to trust and rely on each other more than ever before in order to survive.
Chambers's story is science fiction that's full of heart, heartbreak, and hope. The book feels much more focused on the characters--with a backdrop of space travel and otherworldly creatures--than on exploration or adventure. Much of the story is about acceptance and openness and finding ways to get along. Interspecies relations are prickly, comfortable, romantic, puzzling, or all of the above.
I just adored this. Click here for my full review of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.
03 Festival Days by Jo Ann Beard
In Jo Ann Beard's lovely collection Festival Days, she writes honestly and beautifully about moments large and small, from the weightiness of saying goodbye to loved ones for the last time to the comically complicated corralling of unruly ducks.
In the nine essays and short stories that make up Festival Days, the fantastic Jo Ann Beard explores tiny moments that make up a day and ultimately make up a life, as well as enormously important moments of life-and-death balance that can define everything.
Festival Days is not light reading: "Cheri" delves into the last days of a woman who is terminally ill with cancer; "Last Night" relates the final moments of the author's beloved dog's life; and the backbone of the collection is the title piece, "Festival Days," which centers around a trip through India that explores mortality and love.
Festival Days is lovely and sometimes surprising; it feels honest as Beard explores bitterness, confusion, petty thoughts, life-and-death issues, trivial concerns, and intense love and loss. It's also often wryly funny.
Click here for my full review of Festival Days.
04 Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics by Dolly Parton
Parton shares the background and context for 175 of her songs, frankly discussing her inspiration, life, and the formerly untouchable topics she dove into headfirst through songs.
What's better than listening to Dolly talk about her inspirations, her artistic journey, her joys and her silliness, those who have influenced her, and her motivations--along with short musical snippets?
This is a fast-paced book, as Dolly talks about various thoughts as related to 175 of her songs, while country music author Robert K. Oermann intersperses short intros to add structure and background. (These interjections were necessary but sometimes felt abrupt to me.)
The characters in her songs are often driven to the edge of what they can cope with. Sometimes Dolly lets them fall, but other times her songs about freedom (with her metaphors of butterflies and eagles) set those in her songs soaring. Meanwhile, Dolly's offhanded mentions of endless projects, ideas, collaborations, and plans make clear she's one of the hardest working women in show business.
For my full review of Dolly Parton, Songteller, please click here.
05 The Last Green Valley by Mark Sullivan
Mark Sullivan explores a gripping, detailed, life-and-death period in the life of an ethnically German family at the end of World War II in this historical fiction inspired by a true story.
In The Last Green Valley, Mark Sullivan, author of Beneath a Scarlet Sky, tells a tale of a family's incredible bravery and determination in the waning, cruel days of World War II.
It's 1944, and Stalin's forces are rolling through the Ukraine, leaving destruction and horrors in their wake. In order to escape and survive, Emil Martel makes a haunting deal in order to keep his beloved wife, sons, and extended family safe under the umbrella of the retreating Nazi's power.
Sullivan built this historical fiction around the true story of an ethnically German family running from the Ukraine at the end of World War II, filling in gaps with researched, plausible, but imagined--and captivating--details and events.
Mark Sullivan also wrote Beneath a Scarlet Sky, another historical fiction book based upon a real person and his incredible story.
For my full review, check out The Last Green Valley.
06 Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves by Meg Long
I was hooked by Meg Long's debut young adult science fiction novel about tough young Sena, her skittish fighting wolf Iska, and their desperate journey across the ice.
In Meg Long's Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves, young Sena has lost both of her mothers to the brutal sled races on her frozen planet. Since then she's had to be scrappy, creative, and above all, tough.
When she angers a local warlord and becomes eager to escape her world, she's relieved to secure promises of transport out--but the earnest scientists who would help her have one condition: she must help them take part in the planet's most infamous sled race.
In Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves, Long offers an intriguing story of brutal conditions, determined survival, hard-earned loyalty, grudging friendship, and a stubborn overcoming of various vivid dangers.
I was hooked by Long's world-building, her evocative, immersive descriptions of the cold climate, and by tough, grumpy Sena, who has a big heart and a soft spot for Iska, her personality counterpart in wolf form.
For my full review, check out Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves.