January can be a bit of a downer, but it turned out to be a fantastic reading month for me. I read seven books, and all but one was a four or five-star read. I hope this momentum continues in February. I’m also sharing a few non-book loves for the month. Let’s jump in!
What I Read
One of Us Is Dead by Jeneva Rose
One of Us Is Dead is a thriller about a murder in Buckhead, a wealthy neighborhood in Atlanta. The victim is part of an elite group of women with important spouses and equally important images to maintain. These women spend much of their time at Glow, an upscale salon owned by Jenny, who is interrogated by a detective throughout the novel. He’s hoping the secrets shared in Jenny’s salon chair will help him find the killer.
This book is entertaining, but the story fell flat for me. The characters seem like caricatures, and I got tired of their gossip and backstabbing. However, the book is a quick read, so if you want something light and fast-paced, you might like this novel if you’re in the mood for plot over character development. (Also, the author is one of my favorite TikTok follows.)
Strangers to Ourselves: Unsettled Minds and the Stories That Make Us by Rachel Aviv
In Strangers to Ourselves: Unsettled Minds and the Stories That Make Us, Rachel Aviv introduces readers to four people experiencing psychological crises. First, we meet Ray, a once-successful man who can’t let go of his anger. He thinks his doctors are unable to treat him and he resents how his life has turned out. Next is Bapu, an Indian woman who feels an irresistible call to her religion, choosing her god over her family for most of her life as a wife and mother. Then there is Naomi, a poor Black mother who kills one of her sons in a moment of manic desperation. Finally, we meet Laura, a privileged white woman who doesn’t know who she is without her antidepressants. Aviv also shares her own story of being diagnosed and hospitalized with anorexia as a young child.
Each case study is powerful, especially the ones that focus on women. I appreciate how Aviv chose diverse subjects, both racially and economically. Yet, despite their diversity, each person feels trapped in their illness, struggles with hopelessness, and experiences difficulties getting proper medical and psychiatric care. This book makes important points about medication, access to good healthcare, and how one’s environment plavs a role in illness and recovery. Strangers to Ourselves is a book l’Il be thinking about for a long time.
Diary of a Void by Emi Yagi; translated by David Boyd and Lucy North
Ms. Shibata is a lonely woman in her mid-thirties working a dull office job. Because she’s a woman on a team of men, her coworkers expect her to make the coffee, clean the break room, and take care of other menial chores. Shibata is understandably tired of this role, so one day, she makes an announcement: she’s pregnant. Except she isn’t.
Diary of a Void explores what happens in Shibata’s life over the next nine months. The “pregnancy” not only allows her to get out of chores, but she can leave work early. With her new free time, Shibata joins an aerobics class for expectant mothers, cooks healthy meals, goes on walks, and marvels at the slower pace of her life. Weight gain and padding help Shibata keep up her ruse.
I love this book’s exploration of motherhood and how that role impacts how a woman is seen and treated. Diary of a Void reminded me how much I enjoy Japanese fiction’s playfulness and subversive nature.
Spare by Prince Harry
Spare surprised me. It was one of those books I picked up intending to skim, but I found myself quickly engrossed and read the entire thing in two days. So much has already been said about Prince Harry and some of the things he reveals in Spare, but what stands out above all else is how difficult it would be to grow up with the level of fame he endured and is enduring. Autonomy would be nearly impossible. Mistakes would be headlines. The worst moments of your life might just be entertainment to others. I was moved by Harry’s story and found the section in which he discusses his military service especially interesting. This book could have been shorter–something I say about many of the books I read–but I’m glad I read it.
Illustrated Black History by George McCalman
Illustrated Black History is a collection of brief biographies of important Black figures throughout history, including athletes, artists, politicians, chefs, dancers, and many others. Each biography is accompanied by a gorgeous, bold illustration of the subject, which makes this book a joy to read.
Sam by Allegra Goodman
I love reading a novel with solid character development, and that’s what I got with Sam. The book begins when Sam is a little girl and follows her through her teen years. Throughout the book, Sam lives with her single mom Courtney, who’s working two jobs to keep her family afloat. Sam’s dad Mitchell struggles with addiction, so he’s in and out of her life, making promises he can’t consistently deliver. As Sam grows up and becomes more complex, so does Allegra Goodman’s writing. Sam is a heartfelt, moving, and memorable coming-of-age story about a girl I’ll be thinking about for a long time.
I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai
Bodie Kane is a successful podcaster and professor who returns to Granby, the New Hampshire boarding school she attended as a teen, to teach a couple of classes. In her podcasting course, a student starts digging into the murder of Thalia Keith, Bodie’s former roommate at Granby, who was killed on campus. Though the case has been solved for years, Bodie can’t help but ask questions and begins to wonder if justice was really served.
I Have Some Questions for You is a masterful mystery novel about growing up, injustice, and the secrets we keep. Granby feels like a real place, and the characters who populate its campus are complex and interesting. Rebecca Makkai builds tension slowly and methodically until the book’s satisfying conclusion. This novel is the very best of dark academia. I know it will be one of the best things I read all year.
Thanks to NetGalley for an early copy of this book. It releases on February 21.
What I Loved
I’ve kept journals off and on since I was in elementary school, but I stopped over the past few years. I realized how much I missed the practice, so I took Laura Tremaine’s online class, Journaling for Grownups. The course was terrific, and I learned a lot from Laura and the other students. Picking up journaling again has been such a gift. I’ve been using Archer and Olive journals, which I love.
COMEDY: Shang Wang’s Sweet and Juicy
A friend recommended this special, and I’m happy to report that I laughed through the entire thing. I’m eager to watch it again. It’s on Netflix.
EVENT: Jess Walter’s Library Visit
Jess Walter is a prolific and popular local author who visited one of my school libraries last week. He talked about his writing process, answered questions from students, and read an unpublished short story. As much as I enjoyed hearing him read, my greatest delight was hearing him answer kids’ questions and encourage them to write. (Walter’s latest book, The Angel of Rome and Other Stories, is marvelous.)
FRAGRANCE: Jazz Club by Maison Margiela
While I journaled, watched comedy specials, and listened to local authors, I smelled like Jazz Club, my new favorite scent. Wearing it makes me feel much cooler than I actually am, so it’s worth every penny.
That’s it for me! What did you read and love in January?