January, 2017 Roundup

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Oh. My. Gawd. Y’all! I have been like a reading machine for the last two weeks. Fifteen books in fifteen days! It wasn’t even a goal I set; it just sort of happened. The best part about it is that most of the books were really great reads! I was thrilled. Thrilled, y’all!

Now, I reviewed my reading from the beginning of January previously this month (you can check that out here). Below I’ve included brief reviews for each of the final fifteen novels I read this month. Enjoy!


exitExit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston

Y’all, I cannot rave about this book enough. Five stars, all the way. When Hermione Winters is at a cheerleading camp party, a boy slips something into her drink, and things progress as you would assume from there. But only that far. Hermione is not your typical victim – in fact, she refuses to be one. She is a survivor, and this novel is about just that. With an amazing best friend and other supporters, Hermione fights her way back to a new normal and wields her emerging power like a boss.


wayward-pinesWayward Pines Trilogy by Blake Crouch

All three books in this trilogy are surprisingly fast and easy reads. Pines, Wayward, and The Last Town tell the tale of Ethan Burke and the town of Wayward Pines, Idaho – an eerie, small town smack in the middle of nowhere (literally). Dystopian fiction is not generally my kind of thing, but the concept of this trilogy was too good to pass up. A post-apocalyptic community, overseen by an egomaniacal Big Brother, that has no idea it exists as one? Yes, please. My only complaint is Crouch’s continued use of violence – sickening at times and particularly overdone in Book #3. Wayward Pines is also currently airing as a television series on FOX; you can view its website and watch full episodes here.


range-of-motionRange of Motion by Elizabeth Berg

Lainey’s husband has been in a coma for months. She is desperate for him to wake as she struggles to raise their two daughters. I first read this 21 years ago. I liked it then; it was the first Elizabeth Berg novel I’d ever read, and it turned me into a lifelong fan. Reading it now, however… it was so much more. I just appreciated it so much more. I don’t know if it’s because I’m older and wiser, or a more discerning reader now, or what the difference is but the entire book was just so much more beautiful and meaningful this time around. If you’ve never read an Elizabeth Berg novel, this is a great one to start with.


open-houseOpen House by Elizabeth Berg

When Samantha’s husband, David, leaves her she is forced to live her life outside of the box she is used to. Sam grows and grieves as she makes new friends and finds new experiences as a newly single mother. One of the most important lessons she learns, however, is that the person she once was is the person she has always been meant to be. This one was a favorite of mine from several years back; I didn’t love it as much this time around, but still enjoyed it immensely, because: Elizabeth Berg. C’mon, did you really have to ask?


brewster-placeThe Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor

The late Gloria Naylor’s debut novel is just So. Damn. Good. Following the lives of seven African-American women living in the same inner-city housing complex, their stories are stark and beautiful and raw and tender. Each woman’s tale reads like its own short story, however, they are all intricately woven throughout the novel. Naylor’s writing evokes vivid images of each woman and their lives, and leads you down a path you can’t come back from. Oprah produced and starred in a mini-series based on this novel back in the day; you can check it out here.


never-changeNever Change by Elizabeth Berg

Oh, yes, more Elizabeth Berg. Had to do it, y’all.  Many, many moons ago I read this novel and absolutely adored it. It is beautiful and charming and life-affirming and heartbreaking. Fifteen years later, I related to it even more than I did the first time around. At fifty-one years old, Myra Lipinski has always lived alone. While she admits that her job as a visiting nurse and caring for her beloved dog, Frank, are fulfilling, she is also quietly unhappy. When a former classmate with terminal cancer becomes her newest patient, Myra’s life changes forever.


good-behaviorGood Behavior by Blake Crouch

Good Behavior is the collected works of three short stories by Crouch, starring the unforgettable Letty Dobesh. Fresh out of prison and struggling to turn her luck around, Letty runs into quite the conundrum: while robbing a hotel room, she unwittingly witnesses two men planning a murder. Try as she may, Letty is unable to just walk away. Unable to go to the police without incriminating herself in the robbery, she takes matters into her own hands and attempts to play the unlikely hero. Good Behavior has recently been developed as a television series on TNT; you can see it here.


ordinary-lifeOrdinary LIfe: Stories by Elizabeth Berg

This collection of stories was published in 2001, but I avoided it at the time because I had a long-standing grudge against short stories. I hated them! They ended way too soon for my taste. As soon as you got settled into a story, started investing yourself in the characters and storyline, BOOM! Story over. It was  my worst nightmare. Thus, I refused to read them for years and years. I’ve gotten over this grudge in years past and have enjoyed some truly excellent writing because of it – these stories are included in that bunch. I previously recommended Range of Motion as an excellent introduction to Elizabeth Berg; Ordinary Life would be another great way to start your relationship off with her as well.


real-thingUntil the Real Thing Comes Along by Elizabeth Berg

I read this one for the first time sixteen years ago, when I was pregnant with The Boy. I adored this story about 36-year-old Patty who wants nothing more than to have a baby. Unfortunately for her, she’s been unlucky in the love department up to this point and happens to be madly in love with her gay best friend, Ethan. Desperate for something – anything – to happen and aware that time is running short, Patty makes a snap decision that is going to change her life forever, as well as give her the baby she’s always dreamed of.


corona-del-marThe Girls from Corona del Mar by Rufi Thorpe 

This powerful novel follows the lives of Mia and Lorrie Ann, lifelong friends who seem destined to follow diverging paths: Mia living a troubled life and Lorrie Ann sheltered in the cocoon of her loving family. Soon, however, life throws a series of curve balls and each of their paths changes – Mia finding success and love she never expected or believes she deserves, and Lorrie Ann finding herself the hapless victim of tragedy after tragedy. This is a brutal and honest novel of love, friendship,  motherhood, and loyalty beyond normal measure.


sugarSugar by Bernice L. McFadden

Bernice L. McFadden’s debut novel, originally published in 2000, is amazing. A young prostitute, Sugar, moves to small-town Bigelow, Arkansas to get away from a past she is trying to forget. She is befriended by Pearl, who is still wracked with grief over the death of her daughter fifteen years ago. Despite the rejection of Sugar by the townsfolk, she and Pearl form a close bond and the two find healing within their friendship that neither had expected. Unfortunately, dark secrets and true dispositions never stay hidden forever and it won’t be long before Sugar’s sweet new life begins to go sour.


what-we-keepWhat We Keep by Elizabeth Berg

January is officially the Month of Elizabeth Berg, y’all. Whew! Six books by the same author in a ten-day period is unusual for me, but when it comes to Berg, I will make an exception any time. What We Keep chronicles a summer in the 1950’s during which a family fell apart – and the reunion of the mother and daughters in the present day. This is not my favorite Berg novel by a long shot. Now, we could contribute this to the fact that I have my own #mommyissues. But we could also say that Berg’s trademark attention to the beauty of every detail and to the atmosphere itself is simply not as present as it is in other novels. It’s OK, though, Elizabeth – I still love you!!


Plans for February? Nothing specific; I’m just going to take it as it comes. But I know what y’all are really wondering – will there be more Elizabeth Berg on my plate? Why yes, yes there will be. I’ve got a few more of her novels that I’d like to re-read and one or two that I somehow missed over the years that I will be reading for the first time. Yippee for me! But we’ll chat more about that later this month. Until next time, y’all – Happy Reading!!

What was your favorite book in January?

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Winter Reads, 2017 {QuickLit with MMD}

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Linking up to Modern Mrs. Darcy for her monthly QuickLit post, where we share “short and sweet reviews of what we’ve been reading lately” – in this case, what I’ve read so far this month.

We were supposed to be hit by a catastrophic Midwestern ice storm over the past three days. Catastrophic, y’all. I was so prepared. I stocked up on food, water, candles, etc. But most importantly, I charged my reading devices: My Paperwhite, my Fire, my iPhone, and even my ancient android tablet for backup. I was not going to run out of reading juice on this watch, no-sirree-Bob. And then – and then – nothing. Well, we got a little bit of ice, I suppose. But it barely dipped below freezing for most of the time. Mostly, it was just enough ice to make the trees and surrounding structures look stunningly beautiful in the morning sunlight and to keep the sidewalks and porches slippery for part of the day. But you know what, y’all? I still read like there was a raging blizzard out there. I holed up in my house with my blankets and my Ruby and I read and read and read. It was great!! Can’t wait for the next storm…

I’ve read twelve books so far in January, 2017 and have many more waiting in my haul. I’ve been on a winning streak, as well – haven’t hit a dud yet! I told y’all 2017 was going to be a charmed year! Let’s take a look at what I’ve been reading:


born-a-crimeBorn a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

Trevor Noah’s intense and unforgettable memoir of growing up in post-Apartheid South Africa is beautifully written. Full of tales both hilarious and heartbreaking, Noah takes readers from his birth to his early adulthood with grace and humor far beyond his age. In addition to learning about his own experiences and life, I also learned much more about Apartheid than I previously knew – I clearly need to do some more reading on this – while I knew it was awful, I had no idea of the magnitude of its systemic evils.


endless-numbered-daysOur Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller

When a prepper Dad abducts his eight-year-old daughter, they abscond to a derelict cabin deep in the woods. Daddy Dearest tells his daughter that there has been a cataclysmic event and that they are the only two surviving humans on the planet Earth. Peggy offers a unique narrative in this compelling coming-of-age novel that will hit you in the gut when you least expect it. The shocking ending is something you will never see coming – I wanted to go back and re-read several chapters of the book so I could relish the brilliance of this twist.


the-underground-railroadThe Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Colson Whitehead’s interpretation of the Underground Railroad as an actual, brick-and-mortar railroad, is nothing short of brilliant. As Cora flees the Randall plantation in Georgia, she travels the rails to South Carolina, North Carolina, Indiana, and further yet.  At each stop, Cora experiences a different aspect of the times, each of which magnificently mirrors racial issues/attitudes in America to come as history moves forward as well as those present today. Whitehead’s portrayal of slavery and the cultural exploration visited upon in this novel are its greatest strengths, creating an atmosphere of grief, hope, and longing. While the stark and difficult subject matter precludes me from saying this book was a pleasure to read, I will say that I am glad that I did. {Thanks to Doubleday Books & NetGalley}


i-am-the-messengerI Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

I Am the Messenger is a beautiful tale from beginning to end. Following Ed on his journey from going-nowhere, underage cab driver to quiet champion of the people is an honor. As he moves from mission to mission to save the underdog of the day, Ed grows in leaps and bounds. Zusak’s writing is hypnotic; the sharp, emotional impact of the way he breaks his sentences is poetic. His humor is on point throughout the novel. This story is truly a lesson that anyone, no matter how ordinary, can be strong, be courageous, be mighty. This one has all the feels, y’all.


how-it-always-isThis Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

This emotional and compelling novel takes on subject matter that is both timely and so, so important for us to read about. Frankel’s sharp and witty dialogue perfectly complements her deep exploration of tough personal, family, and societal issues. Powerful and captivating, Poppy’s story – and that of her family’s – will leave you doing some serious soul-searching, while giving you insight on the multitudes of ways children’s minds are at work. Each character is exquisitely drawn and woven into this tale, bringing them to life such a way that you cannot help but see yourself and those you love within them. Everyone, especially parents, should read this book. {Thanks to Flatiron Books & NetGalley}


the-wolf-roadThe Wolf Road by Beth Lewis

In this postapocalyptic  psychological thriller, a young girl is lost in the wilderness and is taken under the wing of a woodsman she calls “Trapper.” Now a young adult, having learned a terrible secret about her adopted “father,” Elka strikes out on her own in search of her birth parents. Lewis has created a strong – no, a badass – female lead here, who narrates in a stark and frank manner. Her journey across a dystopian wasteland brings her across more discoveries, experiences, and interactions than she had ever imagined existed. It took me a bit to devote myself to this one but once I did, I was hooked.


unfuck-your-habitatUnf*ck Your Habitat by Rachel Hoffman

As a huge fan of the Tumblr site Unfuck Your Habitat, I was thrilled when I learned Rachel Hoffman had secured a book deal. This how-to manual on developing a housekeeping and organizational system for those of us who have been past failures in these areas is perfect, both helpful and hilarious. Hoffman takes a realistic approach to these tasks, addressing living situations other than that of the everyday homemaker usually depicted in most books of this genre. Her engaging manner keeps readers’ attention and breaks tasks down into their simplest forms so that even the most domestically challenged person can find success. {Thanks to St. Martin’s Press & NetGalley}


lucky-boyLucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran

Lucky Boy is the devastating and haunting family saga of two women – Solimar and Kavya – both mothers, both to the same little boy. Exploring such timely issues as immigration, undocumented workers, infertility, motherhood and more, readers will be captivated by the stories of the women who give their hearts to a small boy named Ignacio.  The alternating tales of Soli and Kavya will capture you and hold you until the very end. This is an absolutely important book that adds much to the global conversation regarding immigration in today’s world. {Thanks to Penguin Group/Putnam & NetGalley}


a-perilous-undertakingA Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn

After waiting impatiently for the last year, Book #2 of Raybourn’s new Veronica Speedwell series was released this January. Book #1 was a tough act to follow, but Raybourn did it with aplomb. Veronica and Stoker return only to be roped into a murder investigation with the intent of proving the innocence of the accused murderer. Their sharp and witty banter flows as they romp through each escapade, making it through by the skin of their teeth. This one wasn’t as fabulous as Book #1, but it did come close – can’t wait for its follow-up next year!!


i-liked-my-lifeI Liked My Life by Abby Fabiaschi

I Liked My Life is the heartwarming and clever tale of a father and daughter struggling to connect as they grieve the death of the woman they both loved. I adored this novel, narrated by Madeline, Brady, and Eve – Madeline being the late mother and wife to Eve and Brady, of course, back from the grave and working behind the scenes to help her family move on without her. Fabiaschi is a master of real, true-to-life internal dialogue. This book about survival, moving on, personal growth, and finding your family again will warm your heart – and tingle your spine with an unexpected twist at the end. {Thanks to St. Martin’s Press & NetGalley}


charlie-freemanWe Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge

This debut family saga tells the tale of the Freeman family, who have moved from Boston to live in the countryside at the Tonybee Institute while assimilating a chimpanzee into their family and teaching him sign language in an experiment that is just waiting to go awry. While sweetly titled, do not be fooled – this is not a heartwarming novel. The Freemans’ story and that of the Tonybee Institute is messy and sorrowful and wrong, and there is an underlying tension throughout the novel that eats away at your nerves. There’s no holding back in this one; Greenidge goes for broke and takes you along for the ride.


always-sarah-jioAlways by Sarah Jio

Sarah Jio is at it again in this poignant and gripping novel about love lost and love found as the past and the present collide in the most tragic of ways. Ten years after losing the love of her life, Kailey has moved on, never knowing that the past is about to catch up with her and tear her newly built world apart. As she tries to piece together the shards of what could have been, Kailey is faced with a decision – one that only the heart can make. Jio’s newest novel, while slightly predictable, is full of tragedy, love, and intrigue – a definite must-read for her fans and more!


As I mentioned above, twelve hits so far this month! Not too stinking bad, if I do say so myself. Hopefully you’ll find something on this list to add to your TBR, because really – can you ever afford to run out of good book ideas? Not on my side of the woods, you can’t. Thanks for joining me for a look at my Winter Reads so far; I’ll catch you up with my next round-up near the end of January. Happy Reading, y’all!!

What have you been reading so far this month?

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Shelter by Jung Yun

shelter“Why should a man care for his parents when they failed to take care of him as a child?

One of The Millions’ Most Anticipated Books of the Year (Selected by Edan Lepucki)

Kyung Cho is a young father burdened by a house he can’t afford. For years, he and his wife, Gillian, have lived beyond their means. Now their debts and bad decisions are catching up with them, and Kyung is anxious for his family’s future.

A few miles away, his parents, Jin and Mae, live in the town’s most exclusive neighborhood, surrounded by the material comforts that Kyung desires for his wife and son. Growing up, they gave him every possible advantage—private tutors, expensive hobbies—but they never showed him kindness. Kyung can hardly bear to see them now, much less ask for their help. Yet when an act of violence leaves Jin and Mae unable to live on their own, the dynamic suddenly changes, and he’s compelled to take them in. For the first time in years, the Chos find themselves living under the same roof. Tensions quickly mount as Kyung’s proximity to his parents forces old feelings of guilt and anger to the surface, along with a terrible and persistent question: how can he ever be a good husband, father, and son when he never knew affection as a child?

As Shelter veers swiftly toward its startling conclusion, Jung Yun leads us through dark and violent territory, where, unexpectedly, the Chos discover hope. Shelter is a masterfully crafted debut novel that asks what it means to provide for one’s family and, in answer, delivers a story as riveting as it is profound.” – Goodreads

On the surface, Shelter by Jung Yun appears to be a tale about a modern family in the midst of a financial crisis, brought on by living above their means. Add to that some parent/child family dynamic issues between Kyung Cho and his wealthy Korean-immigrant parents and there is a sense of palpable tension to the novel right from the start. Yet this is nothing compared to what is about to come – nothing compared to a tale so captivating, so devastating, that you won’t be able to put this book down until you’ve read every last page.

As the Chos are showing their un-fixed fixer-upper in once of the area’s nicer neighborhoods to a realtor, the three look out the back window to see a naked woman running about in the field behind the home. As Kyung looks more closely, he realizes that the woman is his own mother, with whom he has minimal contact in his daily life. And thus begins the emotionally frenzied pace of a novel I least expected.

Kyung’s parents, Jin and Mae Cho, have been the victims of a brutal home invasion in their ritzy neighborhood just blocks away from Kyung’s own home. Kyung is forced to bring them into his own home to care for them. This brings into play a plethora of issues, not the least of which includes the long-hidden abusive relationships within Kyung’s family: his father’s abuse of his mother, his mother’s abuse of Kyung, and even Kyung’s own emotional self-abuse that permeates this story. Kyung seems to be constantly filled with a sense of rage and ineptitude, trying his hardest to instill a sense of normalcy within his family yet furious when he senses anyone else – his wife, his parents, their church members – trying to do the same.

There is some strong writing and certainly a few harrowing (read: graphic) scenes in Shelter, that may cause some discomfort, however, I feel that they fit concisely within the context of the story. Ultimately, this affecting story has an universal appeal. Kyung, his struggle to hold on to his wife and child, his resistance to forgiving his parents, and his inevitable fall from grace – along with the devastating effects of the home invasion upon Jin and Mae – will keep you hooked from beginning to end as you race through the pages of this gripping and satisfying literary thriller.

Shelter by Jung Yun – On sale March 1st!

4 stars

Source: Macmillan-Picador {via NetGalley}