January Reads

January was a good reading month. I am trying something a little different to track my reading this year. I have been posting little reviews as I go on my mrsopusreads Instagram account. You can follow along in real time (#mrsopusreads2018) or, of course, wait for the monthly recap here. Either way, I’d love to know what you’re reading too!

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The Almost Sisters, by Joshilyn Jackson//I kept seeing this book last year, so I’ll give a bunch of people credit for recommending it. I really loved this one. It made me laugh out loud and cry (both literally). It feels neither light nor heavy, though its tone is fairly light for subject matter that is so heavy (messy family, dementia, racism). I loved all of these characters (except the ones you’re supposed to hate), and I felt like there was genuine tension as to whether or not it was all going to come out ok. Upon reflection, I do think that aspects of the plot maybe should have set off my “too much” alarms, but to Jackson’s credit, they didn’t: I was all in. I will be seeking out more of Jackson’s fiction. (My biggest complaint, probably, is that this cover has nothing at all to do with the book. Just weird.)//⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️//#mrsopusreads2018

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Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, by Roxane Gay//I had heard about this memoir on a podcast and was intrigued enough by the promise of great writing to override my (probably temporary) desire to steer clear of memoirs for a while. This one is pretty raw and at times absolutely heartbreaking both in the sexual violence Gay was victim to at twelve years old and in the lifelong emotional and physical aftermath of that trauma. Whereas many (most?) memoirs tend to be a fairly neatly packaged presentation of an aspect her life that the author has processed through and is now reflecting on, this seems much more like a still-in-process (and up-close) working through of all the tangled and complex thoughts and feelings and desires the author continues to have. The chapters are short and somewhat repetitive (which I think might be deliberate). This book by its nature churned up more than it set to rest, and I have no doubt it will stick with me a while.//⭐️⭐️⭐️//#mrsopusreads2018

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Echo, by Pam Munoz Ryan//This book is a gem. It tells several stories nestled together (three main stories that eventually connect within a double-layered framing story). The main characters are bright, creative children facing hard circumstances that threaten their families (the rise of the Nazis in Germany, a cruel orphanage, segregation, Japanese internment camps). Each section ends with a cliffhanger, and I was never ready to let go of the character I had come to adore, even though I suspected the stories would all be resolved and intertwine somehow. I believe this is written as a middle-grade novel, but it holds up for adult readers as well. These are good stories and good storytelling. * I listened to the audio version, and while I do think you could be just as enchanted by reading this one, the audio version is enhanced by the music (the key object in the book is a harmonica that is a significant part of each story).//⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️//#mrsopusreads2018

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⭐️⭐️⭐️💫//Meddling Kids, by Edgar Cantero//Umm, well....hmmm. I mean...hmmm. So this book left me wondering, What did I just read? The premise is that a Scooby Gang-esque group of friends that disbanded after their last mystery join up as adults (minus one human and sub in the great-grandson dog) to revisit and solve for real that last mystery that has haunted them since they were teenagers. The bones of the plot, excepting the resolution, follow more or less what you would expect of a Scooby-Doo reunion episode but with waaay more adult themes and plot lines (and to be clear, these are not the same characters—different names, different people altogether). But pretty much everything else about this book is...different. Cantero disregards (subverts?) all the conventions of writing, and as a reader, you just kind of have to go with it. Throughout, there are sections that are written like a screenplay in the same scenes as regular paragraphs, switching back and forth willynilly. The author freely uses neologisms (characters innerstruggled, tragichuckled, and triviaed, just to name a few). There are stage directions even in the non-screenplay parts; the author breaks the fourth wall; and one character’s hair is regularly anthropomorphized. There are a ton of pop culture and literature references; I got quite a few, but I’m certain I missed more than I caught. The overall effect is fun if you just don’t let all the unusual and nonsensical quirks make you crazy. So the downside that was left for me once I decided to hang in for the ride was that I didn’t like any of the characters. At all. I didn’t like them as people, and I didn’t like how they were written. In the end, I’m glad I stuck this one out. It is outside of what I usually read and stretched my tastes for sure. I’m not eager to seek more like it, but I’ll be thinking about it for a while. //⭐️⭐️⭐️//#mrsopusreads2018

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The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women, by Kate Moore//The Radium Girls (the actual women, not the book) were mentioned in a book I read last month (The Poisoner’s Handbook), and I was glad for the chance to dive deeper into their stories. This book is a history of dial painters (dials meaning watch faces and airplane instrument dials) in the 1920s and 30s. Radium was newly discovered and considered a wonder substance—used not only to make things glow in the dark but also in tonics and face creams and the like. Of course, we now know how incredibly dangerous it is. This is an account of the women who were poisoned by working in the dial painting factories. Most of them died painful, gruesome deaths. The company they worked for is the definition of evil corporation, protecting their financial interests with no regard for human suffering. So, all that to say this was a good one but definitely a heavy read.//⭐️⭐️⭐️💫//#mrsopusreads2018

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Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History and Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale: Here My Troubles Began, by Art Spiegelman//I’ve been rather drawn to graphic novels since our book club decided to sample the genre for our January pick. Maus is perhaps one of the best known graphic novels and is highly acclaimed for good reason. Although the simple artwork and crowded pages weren’t my super favorite, I also suspect a bit of genius in these choices and acknowledge that maybe I’m not actually meant to feel overly comfortable reading a memoir of the Holocaust. I’m certain there exists much scholarship on the author’s choice of drawing people of different nationalities and ethnicities as different animals (Jews are mice, Germans are cats, and non-Jewish Poles are pigs, e.g.), but the effect it had on me was to make the story all the more real. My theory is that I was constantly reminding myself that this happened to real people, not cartoons, and that that unconscious-conscious translation packed a gut-punch. I also appreciated the author’s complicated relationship with his aging father, though I’m still mulling what I think about the more “meta” aspects of volume 2. Though so heavy and somber, I’m glad to have read these for sure.//⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️//#mrsopusreads2018

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The Sacred Enneagram: Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth, by Christopher L. Heuertz//I really enjoyed this one for going deeper with the enneagram. I listened to this as an audiobook, and there was much that I just couldn’t keep straight, so I plan to pick up a paper copy. I appreciated the focus and invitation to better understand your enneagram type as it relates to and informs contemplative practices of Christian spiritual growth. Note: The book is not a guide to finding your enneagram type (that is, it assumes you already know it and/or points to resources to determine your type elsewhere). //at least ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫//#mrsopusreads2018

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The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch//I really loved this novel, and the more I think about it, the more I like it. It’s got all the elements of a type of story I really love: specifically, a group of wily thieves/con men who are actually and obviously the good guys. They’re almost always the smartest ones in the room by a mile, but when it seems they might not be, that’s when it gets interesting. The reviews have a lot of references to Ocean’s Eleven, and that’s apt, but it reminded me also of the television show Leverage—but, you know, with a fantasy genre twist. The story begins when Locke is a child, and one of my favorite quotes comes from when he first meets the Gentleman Bastards: “He was bewildered at how quickly he had escaped his old life and fallen into this new one with strangely pleasant crazy people.” Even though this was a 500-page book, I didn’t want it to end, and I’m currently enjoying the second book in the series (on audio this time).//⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️//#mrsopusreads2018

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Idaho, by Emily Ruskovich//Hunnnnnhhh. What can I say about this book? The writing is so, so good—tears-in-my-eyes, feel-my-heart-beating-faster kind of beautiful (and brutal). The points of view from which the story is told (there are several) are thought-provoking and unique (e.g., people who are connected to the main characters but not actually players in the main plot). As far as time and perspective, this story is so creatively and intriguingly told. So much goodness here...and yet. In the end, I wanted to throw the book across the room. This is not a thriller or a mystery, but at the heart of the book is a compelling question of motive. The book ends with that question unresolved—and not in an ambiguous-but-okay-I-can-see-that kind of way; no, it was unresolved in an I’m-not-sure-the-author-even-knows-the-answer kind of way. I want you to read this so we can discuss it, but agghhhhhhhh. Maddening.//⭐️⭐️⭐️//#mrsopusreads2018

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Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen//Would you believe this is the first Austen I have ever read? I really enjoyed the Kate Winslet/Emma Thompson/Hugh Grant/Alan Rickman movie version of several years ago and now plan to see the newer adaptation when I can get my hands on it. As far as the book goes, I liked it. I see why people love Austen. I do admit that at times was rather bored with the simple plot, but I appreciated the wit and most definitely liked it enough to finish. I have read that this is not Austen’s best novel, so I will give her another shot. I think I will try Persuasion next.//⭐️⭐️⭐️//#mrsopusreads2018

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Tell Me More: Stories about the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say, by Kelly Corrigan//I love this book so much, and as soon as I have to return it to the library, I will be buying a copy. As the subtitle indicates, this is a collection of essays (stories) about 12 phrases we would all do well to learn to say more often (including “tell me more,” “I was wrong,” “no,” “yes,” and “good enough”). I laughed often and out loud, and in the very same chapters I cried out loud too. (I also gleaned a real gem of parenting advice. Although it was a minor point and not one of the 12 phrases, “Where have you looked?” has been a game-changer.) This book is insightful and resonant and sad and joyful and, sigh, so very good. Just thinking about it makes me want to start re-reading. All the stars.//⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️//#mrsopusreads2018

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