Books of 2021 – January


January is a great reading month around here: it’s cold. There’s not a lot going on.

So, snuggled up with books it is, then.

January Fiction

1. The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories by P.D. James.
Finishing up my holiday reading here, obviously. These are NOT cozy stories. James knows the style but she subverts it well. (Kindle fire read for me.)
2. Big Lies in a Small Town by Diane Chamberlain.
Fairly solid effort at a tale spanning two different times but one place. I found several of the 1940s sections incongruous or inaccurate but gave it a solid 3 stars on Goodreads. (Trigger warnings for the sensitive reader.)
3. Cotillion by Georgette Heyer.
Recipe for a truly unique hero: a dash of Bertie Wooster, more than a bit of Percy Blakeney, a tiny dab of Edmund Sparkler, and…maybe, a generous helping of Henry Tilney?

Anyway, whatever went into his construction, Freddy Standen is one of Heyer’s character triumphs and therefore this book is now one of my favorites of hers. I didn’t read the synopsis before starting the book so I thought I had an idea which way the story might go, but Heyer managed to surprise me more than once. (Kindle Fire read)
4. Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie.
Superb, naturally. (And really, how they managed to fit so much crime and so many motives onto one small boat is a secret best left to Dame Agatha.)(Kindle Fire read)
library shelves

January Nonfiction

1. Cosy: the British Art of Comfort by Laura Weir.
An attempt, I believe, to cash in on the current “hygge” trend. I love British things and I love cosy things, but there’s just not much here, here.
2. The Upward Spiral by Alex Korb.
Highly recommend this one, even if you don’t struggle with depression. Anyone interested in habit formation might be interested in this title.
3. Meet the Frugalwoods by Elizabeth Willard Thames.
Memoir rather than how-to. A grudging three stars because it’s adequately written but I never warmed to the author.
4. Patient Zero: The Making of the Aids Epidemic by Richard McKay.
Not easy reading, by any means. An academic, rather than accessible, treatment of a horrific subject. Should probably be read in tandem with Randy Shilts’ “And the Band Played On” which this book attempts to discredit (somewhat, and not successfully).
5. Being Lolita by Alisson Wood.
Well crafted but again, not easy reading. (SO MANY TRIGGER WARNINGS REQUIRED HERE.) Pretty sure this hits me differently as the mother of three teen girls – and one tween – than simply a former teen myself. Four stars, but lots of disclaimers. (The language, subject matter, etc.)
6. We Wear the Mask: 15 Essays on Passing edited by Brando Skyhorse and Lisa Page.
In a collection of essays by various authors, the quality varies. Some of these were brilliant, some thought-provoking, some sad, and some confused. Lots of great food for thought on what it means to be human, what acceptance is, and the various ways we classify ourselves and others. (Multiple disclaimers: language, content, etc.)
7. Awaking Wonder by Sally Clarkson.

I used to joke that Clarkson’s parenting and homeschooling advice amounted to:

  • 1. Read lots of books, and
  • 2. Drink lots of tea.

But now, the joke’s on me, because if I had to summarize MY best parenting / homeschooling advice those would probably be my top 2 suggestions. (Hot beverage of choice may be substituted for tea.)

This works well as an encouragement from a mom who has crossed the finish line (of educating her children, obviously Mrs. Clarkson is still with us here on earth) telling the rest of us: “It’s worth it. You can do this. Don’t quit!”

Parts of this were occasionally repetitive and parts almost amounted to near-perfect examples of the “humble-brag.” I gave it 3 stars, but I might have given it four had I been feeling more generous the day I finished it. We’ll say 3 1/2, I guess. (Kindle Fire read)
8. Surprised by Paradox by Jen Pollock Michel.
Yes, more of this, please. By “this” I mean: theologically rich titles by female authors wrestling with thorny issues without succumbing to trite answers.
I particularly recommend this if you’re wrestling with grief. The chapters on lament are worth your time.
9. Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition by Christine Pohl.
I definitely recommend this challenging title. Quotes from this one filled many pages of my commonplace book. (If you’re comparing to Rosaria Butterfield’s recent book, The Gospel Comes with a House Key, this title is more academic and history based, but both are helpful and worthy.

The only real downside to this book, in my opinion: how often and extensively Jean Vanier is quoted. He, unfortunately, has been completely discredited. (If you want to read more about that situation you can start with this essay.) This is, obviously, not the author’s fault because she could not have known any of this at the time of this book’s publication. But I found myself skimming any time I saw Vanier’s name.

Big bonus: this title is extremely well price for Kindle right now (although that’s not how I read it).

Finish any books in January? I’d love to hear your recommendations.

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