Recent Reads: January 2019

Isabelle Edwards reads

New year, new reads! Last year, I surpassed my reading goal of 25 books (I read 36!) and so this year, I’ve set the bar even higher — in 2019, I want to read 50 books. It’s a big goal, but thankfully, I kicked off the new year strong and read 9 books in January!

This month, I’m re-reading Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby. I read it in high school and I’m excited to see what I take away from the novel when reading it as an adult. I’m also SO excited for the release (Feb. 5!) of Black Leopard, Red Wolf, Marlon James’ newest novel, which is being coined as “the African Game of Thrones” (SO badass!) I already pre-ordered a copy so that it’s in my hands as soon as it’s released! I’m already feeling #blessed that it’s a part of a TRILOGY, so I know I’ll have other books to look forward to throughout the upcoming years. Marlon James is tied with Toni Morrison as my favorite author, so I’m SO grateful for this new work.

Otherwise, I’m pretty undecided about what to read in February. Do you have any suggestions? Of course, I have my “To Read” list on GoodReads, but I always prefer personal recommendations. Let me know!

And, last but not least, I’m also in the beginning stages of starting at Atlanta-based book club, so please comment below if you’re interested and would like to join! I’m taking my time in getting it set up, but I can’t wait to have an in-person community of readers!

Now, without further ado — let’s get to these book reviews!

Becoming by Michelle Obama | 5/5 Stars
At this point, I’d be shocked if you’re not planning on picking up a copy of Becoming by Michelle Obama; it’s (unsurprisingly) received rave reviews since its release. Jeremiah gifted me a copy for Christmas (I was, like, 258th on my library’s waiting list, so I was elated!) and I immediately devoured it. Because there are so many reviews out there, I’ll keep this one short: I loved learning about Michelle’s innermost thoughts and Becoming made me love Barack, Michelle, Sasha and Malia even more. I also love that Michelle didn’t shy away from candidly expressing her feelings about politics and how they can affect family life. In all, this book shows what perseverance and “going high when they go low” looks like, which in our current political climate, is much needed.

Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires | 4.5/5 Stars
Heads of the Colored People is a collection of unique, imaginative and darkly humorous short stories that all examine black identity within present-day America. Each vignette is comprised of completely original, and oftentimes bizarre, story lines and characters that push the boundaries of conventional short story writing. Some short stories, such as “Belles Letters” — in which two mothers throw shade at each other via notes left in their daughters’ backpacks — had me laughing out loud, while others, such as “Wash Clean the Bones” — which addresses the most painful parts of being black in America —  left me on the verge of tears. Despite this being Thompson-Spires debut collection, she has a refined, dark & satirical writing style (reminiscent of Paul Beatty!) & I was completely blown away by her strength as a writer. Heads of the Colored People is a must-read.

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover | 5/5 Stars
A few months ago, I started seeing Educated popping up everywhere — from Instagram reviews to the GoodReads’ newsletter — and decided to give it a read, without knowing much about its plot. In Educated, Westover gives us a glimpse into her world — born to a dysfunctional family of survivalists, Tara and her siblings are forbidden from going to school, fraternizing with anyone that isn’t “devout,” and believe their father’s word to be law. As the book moves forward, and details harrowing moments of abuse, dysfunction and harmful narrow-mindedness, Tara eventually realizes that she wants to seek her own truth about the world and, with her brother’s encouragement, applies to college. This book filled me with so many emotions, as in many moments, it’s painful to keep reading what Tara suffered through, let alone to imagine going through it oneself. Tara Westover is an incredible survivor and I strongly recommend everyone reads her memoir.

Training School for Negro Girls by Camille Acker | 4.5/5 Stars
Training School for Negro Girls is a collection of short stories that center on black women and girls in D.C. and how they discover their sense of self, womanhood and identity. These short stories were vibrant and each character was well-formed. While many GoodReads reviews critique Acker’s endings, starting that they fall flat, I didn’t feel that way — instead, I enjoyed the way that there wasn’t always a particular “solution” and that loose ends weren’t always tied up. My favorite short story was “Mambo Sauce,” which adds a new perspective to the topic of gentrification.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman | 5/5 Stars
This was my final read for the month of January and it was the perfect book to close out the month. Eleanor Oliphant is a socially awkward, friendless woman, who lives by a strict routine and often spends entire weekends without talking to another person. When she meets Raymond, an IT specialist new to her office, she thinks nothing of him, but their eventual friendship helps Eleanor to grow in ways she never thought possible. Eleanor Oliphant explores loneliness, mental health and accepting and loving others for who they are. I adored how beautifully crafted the characters of Eleanor and Raymond are and the book left me feeling inspired, warm and positive. I purchased this book & I’m happy I get to add it to my physical collection, as it’s definitely a book I’ll re-read time and time again.

The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge | 3.5/5 Stars
I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel quite like The Night Ocean, which was outside of my comfort zone in topic, scope & writing style. Marina Willett’s husband, Charlie, becomes obsessed with H.P. Lovecraft and, particularly, the summer of 1934, during which he lived with a 17-year old gay fan, Robert Barlow. Almost 80 years later, in hopes of solving the mystery of Barlow and Lovecraft’s relationship, Charlie is led down a rabbit hole full of secrets and scandal and, eventually, completely disappears. Marina attempts to find her husband by piecing together Charlie’s work & picking up the mystery where he left off. The Night Ocean is a Russian nesting doll of a story — each new piece of information opens up a dizzying & all-encompassing storyline, which sometimes leads to the truth and sometimes doesn’t. I didn’t know much about H.P. Lovecraft or Robert Barlow and I enjoyed reading and learning about them both.

The Long Fall by Walter Mosley | 3.5/5 Stars
The Long Fall is the first book in the Leonid McGill Mysteries Series — though Mosley is a veteran mystery writer at this point — and centers on Leonid McGill, a tough ex-boxer-turned-private investigator. When the reader is introduced to McGill, he’s attempting to clean up his act — previously, he turned a blind eye to what his clients did with the information that he provided them —and hopes to avoid work that involves framing, scamming, or that leads to the demise of another person. Unfortunately, McGill makes a misstep and provides information about 4 men for an anonymous client, who then proceeds to kill each of them; when McGill is then almost killed himself, he knows he must get to the bottom of the assignment and stop further damage from taking place. I hadn’t read a mystery in awhile and this was a quick, fun and easy read that held my attention. I plan on keeping up with the series and requested the next two books from the library.

The Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir | 2.5/5 Stars
I picked up this book from the library because I saw it & vaguely remembered that a friend, Gabby, had read it and written a review. (If only I’d also remembered she gave it only 2 stars — whoops!) Perhaps I’m just too old for YA novels, but this book definitely requires its readers to suspend disbelief. There were a number of elements to the story that didn’t make sense to me: Essie and Roarke, the two main characters, are both 17-years old, yet read as adults; somehow, despite being a part of a small, extremely conservative community and family, we’re to believe that Essie formulated progressive and liberal views all on her own; Essie’s trauma is not written well, and her character seems completely fine throughout the book, despite not having access to therapy or even a person to talk to since the beginning of her abuse. Reading this book felt like binge-watching a bad TLC show; entertaining, but also exhausting. I don’t recommend it.

The Supremes Sing the Happy Heartache Blues by Edward Kelsey Moore | 3/5 Stars
I picked up this book from the library based entirely on its cover and it ended up being a straightforward and easy read, perfect for a commute or laying on the beach.The Supremes is a group of lifelong friends —Barbara Jean, Odette, Clarice — now all in their 60s and living in Plainview, Indiana. Each woman faces her own internal struggles and works to find healing in her own way, with the help of her community and friends. Simultaneously, a bluesman, El Walker, returns to town after many years away, and his life intersects with The Supremes as he grapples with his own dark history as well. This read was enjoyable and had interesting characters, and I liked that one doesn’t have to read the first book in order to keep up. That being said, I probably wouldn’t recommend this book to others, as it was just-okay to me.

I’ve linked to Amazon for convenience, but highly recommend supporting your local library and/or independent bookstore if you can!

Want to know what I’m currently reading? Keep up with me on GoodReads! xx