January Wrap-Up: My Favorite Reads of the Month
My very favorite Bossy January reads!
I'm a little early with this one since the month doesn't end until Tuesday, but I like my Greedy Reading Lists to come out on Fridays. If a book blows my mind over the weekend, I will come forward with my formal regrets!
Anyway, here are my six favorite (and varied!) reads of the first month of 2023. I've had a fantastic reading month.
If you've read any of these, I'd love to hear what you think!
And I'd also love to hear: what are some of your recent favorite reads?
01 Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn
This fun, darkly funny, feminist story about a retiring female team of elite assassins was the right book at the right time for me: entertainment in the perfect combination of action and suspense, loyal friendship, clever plotting, and the promise of love.
The Museum is an organization that operates outside of governmental control, relying on various trained elite killing forces. Originally formed in order to hunt down and rid the world of lingering Nazis, the Museum's mission has evolved to focus on taking out carefully chosen bad guys of all stripes--drug dealers, human traffickers, arms dealers, and the like.
After four decades of successfully ridding the world of cruelty and destruction one person at a time, the Sphinxes (Billie, Natalie, Helen, and Mary Alice) are set to retire. They're not sure what they'll do with themselves once the work that has shaped them into who they are--both separately and together--is over, but they're getting used to the idea of collecting their pensions and figuring out the rest.
But when the four friends are sent on an all-expenses-paid vacation to mark their retirement, a Museum associate attempts to do them in. The women realize they may know too much about where the bodies are buried--literally--to be allowed to drift away into the world without a fight.
In Killers of a Certain Age, Raybourn has crafted an irresistibly fun, clever, feminist caper that had me hooked the whole way through. I loved the women's complicated bonds, their crafty planning, their fights for justice, and their ability to remain flexible and reinvent themselves.
I love a spy/assassin book and a book that treats dark subjects playfully without being silly. For my full review, check out Killers of a Certain Age.
02 Signal Fires by Dani Shapiro
In Signal Fires, Dani Shapiro offers characters and consequences that connect through time and in unexpected ways. The loss and redemption here are tragic and beautiful.
Signal Fires begins with three teenagers drinking in 1985, a car accident, a young doctor Ben Wilf, who comes upon the wreck and whose family is involved, and a haunting secret.
Time passes, and a young family moves onto Division Street. Their astronomy-obsessed young son Waldo befriends the retired Dr. Wilf, whose wife is losing her memories at the same time vivid memories of past events come rushing back to Ben with uncomfortable impact.
“If only time could be seen whole, then you could see the past remaining intact, instead of vanishing in the rearview mirror.”
Signal Fires is about brokenness and the consequences of secrets and mistakes. But it is also largely about overcoming thwarted emotional connection and forging new ways of coming together through and after tragedy.
I love Shapiro's writing and how she conveys the tragic beauty of human weakness and the relentless, if sometimes seemingly ill-advised, nature of hope. I adored the way the character of Waldo served as an unlikely conduit to wonder and how he bridges enormous barriers of all kinds.
I listened to Signal Fires as an audiobook.
Click here for my full review of Signal Fires and a link to my review of Shapiro's fascinating book Inheritance.
03 Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver
Kingsolver offers an epic story of a faulted, unlikely hero in danger of being crushed by exceptionally difficult circumstances. His golden heart and grit allow him to keep fighting through brokenness, pain, and disappointment in rural Virginia.
The newest Barbara Kingsolver book, which has been called an Appalachian David Copperfield, is epic. It's 560 pages and driven by the unique voice and gritty, heartbreakingly hopeful, broken voice of Demon (named Damon, a redhead, hence the "Copperhead").
Charles Dickens's experience with extreme poverty in Victorian England inspired him to highlight its cruel impacts on children in his story David Copperfield. That book inspired Demon Copperhead, in which Kingsolver showcases the invisibility of the rural poor in Appalachia as well as a tragic cycle of poverty, drug dependence, and death--with signature Kingsolver characters who have unique voices and are complex, flawed, and irresistible.
The downward spiral kept going and going, and its grimness took my breath away. Yet Kingsolver keeps Demon's voice strong even as he falters and as everything he has counted on seems swept away. His rock-bottom--it isn't a moment; it feels as though he drags the bottom for years--sets up a situation in which he seems washed clean for some version of a new beginning.
The prospects for Demon's future seem far from neat and perfect, but by the end of the book there are glimmers of hope for our faulted hero.
Click here for my full review of Demon Copperhead.
04 Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan
Keegan's slim book may seem cozy and quiet at first, but she beautifully illuminates tiny moments alongside momentous decisions and explores how together, they form a person and make up a whole life.
When Bill, a good-hearted coal merchant, discovers something shocking while making his regular delivery to the local convent, he must decide whether to carry on his way or to consider the uncomfortable implications of the Catholic church's deep influence on the community.
Similarly, when he stumbles onto a truth about his own mysterious heritage--a mystery he felt he had made peace with--he must decide whether it changes his feelings about his childhood and his identity. The two issues are intertwined, and it's a joy to watch the manner in which Bill copes with both instances.
The story comes alive through the little moments Keegan highlights; while she explores decisions often determined by instinctual black-and-white, right-and-wrong judgments, she also digs into the intense struggle involved in reaching out from comfortable safety and taking a risk in order to do what feels right.
Keegan takes the small moments, impulses, generosities, omissions, and aversions that make up a day, a week, and a month and lays them alongside Big Moments of Realization--which often require grace and forgiveness, other times action and defiance--and with all of this in hand, she paints a picture full of the nuances choices, self-reflection, and possibilities that form the basis of a life.
Please click here for my full review of Small Things Like These.
05 The Light We Carry by Michelle Obama
I listened to this audiobook and highly recommend immersing yourself in Michelle Obama's voice as she shares calm, wise, funny, or poignant reflections, personal practices, and gems of advice regarding retaining hope and being your best self.
Rather than pretending there are quick fixes for life's challenges and difficulties, Obama opens up her "toolbox" of emotional, meditative, and optimistic methods of coping, reminding herself of what's what, and ways in which she carries on in the face of adversity. While her White House circumstances are unusual and some of her related recollections are unique, her methods translate to the rest of us and daily life.
She builds her book around pivotal encounters with others or aims to answer questions that have been frequently posed to her, along the way sharing more of the story of her family, marriage, political life, friendships, frustrations, hopes, goals, and joys.
I didn't necessarily come away with new approaches (aside from entertaining the idea of incorporating a version of her friend's "Hey, Buddy!" morning self-greeting), but I thoroughly enjoyed and felt calmed by listening to this wise, kind, savvy woman read her gorgeously written thoughts and well-crafted reflections.
Her writing--deep self-reflection with sometimes poetic phrasing--is just beautiful. I loved reading this and spending time with Michelle Obama.
For my full review, please check out The Light We Carry.
06 As Good As Dead (A Good Girl's Guide to Murder #3) by Holly Jackson
Jackson doesn't skimp on heart-pounding pacing, captivating character development, and dark turns in this third book in her young adult mystery series. I never would have predicted the twists. Sign me up for all Pippa Fitz-Amobi books, forever, please.
As Good As Dead is the final book in A Good Girl's Guide to Murder, a series I've loved, and I've been delaying reading this third and final installment due to my willful denial that the series is ending, my intense love for the characters of Pip and Ravi, and Holly Jackson's smart, sassy, irresistible storytelling.
Ever since Pip's book two detective work ended in an important resolution, she's been coping with the significant trauma of that case's dramatic final events.
She's in danger of being sued for libel by Max Freaking Hastings, who Pip knows is a terrible person who has done terrible things--which is why she said so, passionately, on her podcast.
And she can't shake a general sense of unease, as though she's missing something.
The direction the book takes is fascinating. Jackson does not let off the gas pacing-wise. The unexpected twists and turns kept me riveted while Pip's unfailing bravery and her hero's struggles and emotional turmoil threatened to break my heart.
For my full review (and links to my reviews of the other books in this series), check out As Good As Dead.