January was a little odd for me personally (due in part to a cancelled NYC vacation -- thanks, winter storm Jonas), but for the bookstore? It was stellar. We hosted a couple of outstanding authors, including First Lady Sandra Deal, and we helped book clubs get inspired with new members and our favorite 2016 selections. Somewhere in the middle of all that, I read nine books. Here they are:
The Widow by Fiona Barton. I kicked off the new year with a couple of thrillers; if I’m ever in a reading slump, I find a fast-paced suspense helps me recalibrate, and The Widow by Fiona Barton fit the bill. When protagonist Jean Taylor’s husband dies, she realizes the secrets she’s been keeping can finally be shared. Expertly paced, the novel unfolds through different voices -- Jean’s, the cops, a news reporter -- and the reader becomes desperate to know what Jean has been hiding all these years. The Widow wasn’t particularly groundbreaking, but it held my attention up until the very last page. It releases on February 16.
Twisted River by Siobhan MacDonald. Twisted River was my second thriller of the month, and although I didn’t find it quite as compelling as The Widow, it’s perfectly enjoyable. The novel follows two families in need of a vacation, only to have their overseas house swap go horribly wrong. (Think the movie The Holiday with an awful twist.) This one releases March 22.
The Arrangement by Ashley Warlick. I’ve been recommending The Arrangement since I finished it; the debut novel is written by a fellow Southern bookseller, but that’s not why it’s at the top of my “must-read” list. The Arrangement is the fictional story of real-life food writer MFK Fisher, and it imagines her time in California, France, and the Swiss Alps. Warlick navigates the novel’s different settings beautifully; I felt like I’d been completely transported back to the 1930s, mesmerized by Fisher’s life and work. Book clubs will want to snag this one when it releases February 9.
Perfect Days by Raphael Montes. It’s hardest to review the books I don’t like, so here’s what I’ll say about Perfect Days: If you’re looking for a well-written suspense novel, this isn’t it. But if you’re looking for a Criminal Minds episode in literary form, Perfect Days is probably for you. This newly translated novel was too dark and explicit for me, and the story never had quite the substance to justify the story. I asked a customer and our shop manager to read this one, just so we had a couple of different opinions, since mine is pretty skewed. Feel free to chat with us at the register about it.
Forty Rooms by Olga Grushin. This book was my favorite of the month, and that’s saying a lot, because I read some really lovely books in January. The novel’s premise is simple: According to the author, a woman occupies 40 rooms in her lifetime, from her childhood bedroom to her dorm room, the bathroom where she breaks up with her boyfriend to the nursery where she rocks her children. Forty Rooms follows the protagonist through all the rooms of her lifetime, and the result is something of beauty. Forty Rooms may top my “best of 2016” list at the end of year.
The Expatriates by Janice Y.K. Lee. Told in three alternating voices, The Expatriates follows the wives of men in the tech and financial industries and how they’re handling life abroad in Hong Kong. The Expatriates was an interesting look at a life I don’t know very much about, and for that reason, I enjoyed it. It might be best read in a book club setting.
Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy. I picked up this YA novel based solely on my love for Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’, but when I read the description -- something about a teen with cancer -- I just wasn’t sure. (It feels like that market’s been pretty well covered.) However, just a few pages in, and I was hooked. Alice’s cancer isn’t the defining characteristic of this quirky book; instead, it’s Alice’s insecurities and anger as she navigates her vengeful bucket list that had me quickly turning pages. I loved this book and thought it was another nice departure from some other YA fare (though Dumplin’ still has my heart).
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. You’ve probably seen this book making the rounds on the morning shows and the review columns. Paul Kalanithi had completed his training to become a neurologist when he was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer; this is the book he wrote as he endured a year of treatment before dying at the age of 37. When Breath Becomes Air is ultimately about meaning; it’s a book about death and life and what makes it worth living. This is my other favorite book of the month; it’s stunning and heart-breaking and an absolute must-read. (Yes, you’ll need Kleenex, but read it anyway.)
My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl. I suppose this is technically a cookbook, but it’s filled to the brim with essays and insights, so I think it counts as part memoir, too. In My Kitchen Year, Ruth Reichl adjusts to life after her beloved Gourmet magazine is shut down, and she loses the job she’s held for years. For comfort, she returns to her kitchen, and the result is this beautiful book. It’s so lovely, I actually bought a copy for my own kitchen, and I can’t wait to tackle some of the recipes. (Though I mostly bought it for Reichl’s gorgeous prose.)