What I've Been Reading in January
These frigid temps beg us to cozy up and connect with a good book, so if you're in-between novels, here's What I've Been Reading in January.
(Would you rather watch? Check out my one-on-one chat with Mirah by clicking here.)
In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash by Jean Shepherd
This was a book I got in December during my neighborhood Book Club. Everyone brought a wrapped book they had enjoyed that year. We played the Dirty Santa game with the books. Whatever book you ended up reading was your book to read for our January get-together. I am so glad I received this one - and that I put off reading it until January 1. Are you familiar with the movie A Christmas Story? It is from the first chapter of In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash and that gives you an excellent feel for the nostalgia that the book evokes. The novel is a collection of reminiscences between two childhood friends and the reader feels drawn into them like a third party as they remember fondly the foibles and follies of their youth. Reading through In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash felt like a trip down memory lane, a fun visit into yesteryear.
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal
This little paperback made it's appearance in my neighborhood Book Club last summer - and we've been passing it around from member to member ever since. In January it was finally my turn to see what all the fuss was about inside this beautifully covered novel and I am so glad that I didn't let the title scare me away from experiencing this beautiful story about intergenerational relationships - specifically female friendships. As the title suggests, it is about the Indian culture seen through the eyes of (mostly) Punjabi widows. It is an excellent peek behind the curtain, showing the reader the deep intricacies of Eastern thinking on everything from arranged marriages & honoring one's parents to widowhood & reputation. The women come together through a class in which they want to learn to read and write at their community center in an Indian suburb of London. Don't let the title fool you. This book embraces the moments of life that define us and the circumstances we encounter that give our lives direction.
*Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah
I first heard of Kristin Hannah through a friend inside The Classics Community. Amy thought I would like the author's style and oh boy, was she right! Winter Garden is maybe my 6th KH novel to read in the past year and I have enjoyed every single one of them. I read Winter Garden in mid-January when the first cold weather of winter visited us here in the south and that alone heightened my experience of this novel all about the complexities of mother-daughter relationships. Part Russian history, part family dynamics, this book contained a story-within-a-story and dealt with heavy issues like loss and the grief it leaves in its wake, as well as how differently people process loss. It demonstrated how our primary relationships early in life mold and shape us into who we become and how those early relationships affect our primary relationships later in life. By the end of the novel, I wanted to simultaneously hug my sisters, visit my Mom's gravesite, visit the Pacific Northwest, and go on a cruise to Alaska. If you've struggled with your past or experienced difficult family relationships, Winter Garden is a must-read.
*Winter Garden was my January book for the 22 in '22 Book Challenge.
Montana 1948 by Larry Watson
First and foremost I want to admit my faux pas regarding this book. Montana 1948 (which is absolutely up front about which era you'll be reading) was a book suggested on social media that I immediately added to my Christmas Wish List on Amazon because I visited my sister in Montana last summer and fell in love with the location, of which my infatuation has only increased due to binge-watching Yellowstone with the hubs this Fall.
I mistakenly read the year as 1848 and pioneer America is my jam.
With that in mind, you'll understand my surprise to find myself on the cusp of Happy Days in rural Montana - the flat parts, in case you were wondering - inside the head and home of a tween boy. This book was off to a rough sell, coming back from all of my own misunderstandings.
But it came back.
This short novel by Larry Watson reads like a memoir with nostalgic bits scattered throughout that were still a thing when I was a kid decades later, so reading it was partially like remembering my own childhood. "Part family memoir, part psychological drama, part historical adventure tale, party elegy to a place & a lost way of life," Montana 1948 is an engaging story with a yesteryear feel to it revolving around a deeper issue that does not blind the reader, but shines subtly to make you pause and consider it. A quick read that was hard to put down.
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
This sci-fi drama is brought to us by the author of The Martian (a sci-fi drama that was turned into a movie by the same title starring Matt Damon a few years ago). True to form, Andy Weir entrenches the reader again in formidable amounts of science within the pages of Project Hail Mary, but somehow he makes it work even for the unscientifically minded with expertly timed humor and relatable real-life experiences. I lost count how many times I laughed aloud reading this space travel adventure! I pondered how I would react if I were in the same situation. I wrestled with issues like my own degree of selflessness while the main character faced the dilemma of self-preservation versus self-sacrifice. Like The Martian, nothing goes smoothly and the main character's ability to creatively problem solve and think on his feet is his only chance at survival. Project Hail Mary is a masterfully woven tale full of mystery, determination, and connection with a completely unexpected ending.
(I cannot go into detail on the other two novels I read this month because those two are upcoming novels that we will be reading inside The Classics Community this Spring. What is The Classics Community? I explain all about it here.)
Interested in more 5 star novels? Check out past novels inside The Classics Community here.
Have you read any of the books I shared this month? I'd love to hear what you thought of them in the comments below!
I’ve added Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows to my list. Thanks for the recommendation!
Winter Garden! Great book but so hard to read after being a mom…just heartbreaking…excited to try some others…thanks for reviewing! I dig your writing too!
Thank you for sharing the book recommendations, and also I’m a huge KH fan so I Loved Winter Garden for many reasons. It Brings out a lot of emotions. I will add a few you’ve mentioned to my lists.
And I just wanted to say that I enjoy reading your reviews of books, they are well written.
I listened to Winter Garden this month. It was a great immersive story for a long winter drive, but I think the narration is part of the reason why I didn’t connect with some characters. When I read portions of the book, I didn’t give the same tone to character thoughts and dialogue and I think that made a difference.
To answer your question, I have read one of the books you mentioned, which was Winter Garden, recommended to me by the same person! I really enjoyed it, too, and it sounds like we enjoyed it for many of the same reasons. Thanks for the recs- there are a couple I am definitely interested in reading.