My best reading buddy

Book Blog: January 2021 Favorites

When I realized how long it takes to put together a best-of-the-year book blog, I’ve decided to highlight a few favorites each month as a way to share some recommendations with you and encourage you to pick up a great book!

This month might have a few extras because 2021 has come in like a lion and I’ve finished 16 books this month! The weather continues to be a little bit crappy in the PNW and because I’m a fair-weather girl that has meant more time inside to read and introvert and do all sorts of wonderful indoor things.

Im still *slowly* making my way through my Read The World project and after several false starts last year I’ve found a few good options this year and it’s only the first month!

What are you reading these days? As you can imagine I’m always looking for recommendations!

Fiction

Three Daughters of Eve (Elif Shafak): I first encountered Shafak when I read The Bastard of Istanbul, my Read the World pick from Turkey, but this, the second book of hers that I have read, didn’t disappoint!

Three Daughters of Eve takes place in 2016 (current day) and then consists of flashbacks to Peri, the main character’s, childhood in the 1980s and 1990s, as well as her time at Oxford in the early 2000s. This is a story filled with rich characters, including Peri’s parents (one a devout Muslim, the other a proud atheist), friends in the present-day and at Oxford, and, as the book jacket teases, a handsome, God-like professor at Oxford.

I appreciated that Shafak played with some common themes (student hot for professor) but in a new and different way. In fact, my own predictions about the book were not at all true, but at the same time the story was not too surprising (a pet peeve of mine). If you enjoy character-driven fiction, this book is for you !

The Night Tiger (Yangsze Choo): My Read the World book for Malaysia, this book managed to strike a nice balance between an easy read and a thicker tome, and because it was set in an unfamiliar place I found that I learned a lot as I went along.

Set in 1930s Malaysia, the book follows two main characters — young woman Ji Lin and 10-year-old- boy Ren. What connects them? A dry-preserved finger! Choo weaves together mythology and traditions (such as Chinese numerology, weretigers, traditional name meanings) in a way that I found additive to the story, but the strength of this book is the complexity of the characters. This book was a very lovely blend of mystery, relationships, family, and history — so I highly recommend it if you love historical fiction!

Eye of the Needle (Ken Follett): Follett is one of my go-to authors for plot-driven fiction with *just* enough character development! He writes one hell of a thriller, and even though it was written more than 40 years ago it is just as engaging as if it was written today!

This story is set in England in WW2 and centers around a German spy called Die Nadel (The Needle). It was known that Germany had many spies in Allied countries, but as the Allies prepare for the D-Day Invasion it is critical for them to capture this highly-skilled spy. There are several parallel tracks in the novel, which really keeps the plot moving — a young couple living on a small Scottish Island, British intelligence officers on the hunt, and Die Nadel himself.

If you love a good historical thriller that will keep you engaged and get your blood pumping, I recommend this book!

Nonfiction

That Good Night (Sunita Puri): Do you ever have a book that sits in your to-read stack until just the right moment? I’m convinced I picked up this book when my mind and heart were ready to confront the challenging subject matter. Dr. Puri takes us into the world of palliative medicine, a newer discipline that focuses on providing relief from people living with serious illnesses or conditions (an important distinction — it is not hospice, which is care in the last six months of a person’s life).

As doctors tend to focus so much on saving and living, it is interesting to read the perspective of a doctor who focuses on quality of life in some of the most difficult times. Death is a challenging topic for me yet this book was not as hard to read as I had anticipated. The stories in its pages were beautiful, much more about the value of a life well-lived than death.

Reasons to Stay Alive (Matt Haig): Have I fan-girled about Matt Haig enough? No? I shall continue.

The Midnight Library was one of my favorite books of 2020, and yet as much as I love Haig’s fiction, his books about anxiety and depression speak to my soul in a different way entirely. Reasons to Stay Alive starts with Haig near the edge of a cliff in Ibiza, ready to throw himself off of it. The rest of the book comprises of reasons to keep living — his own and the words of others. This book is slightly more about depression (and I found Notes on a Nervous Planet to speak more to my anxiety), but it is a beautiful meditation on what it is to live — sometimes survive, sometimes thrive — with mental illness.

The Killer’s Shadow (John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker): Speaking of obsessions, I heard that Netflix’s Mindhunter is unlikely to return for another season. Bummer! But never fear — John E. Douglas, one of the founders of the FBI’s BAU, has written several true crime books that you can devour until Netflix gets its s**t together and decides that another season of Mindhunter is the right choice.

Douglas and Olshaker write a different type of true crime book — it is less about the chase than the profiling, analysis, and understanding of the killer. This book’s unsub is white supremacist serial killer John Paul Franklin, who is known to have killed at least 13 people, either Black or whites who “intermingled” with Black people. From the get-go we know who Franklin is, but the power of this book came through the deep expertise that Douglas brings as well as how he connects this case to other well-known serials to show similarities and differences. True crime junkies, I recommend this book!

A Circle of Quiet (Madeleine L’Engle): This is a beautiful book, probably what I had hoped the musings on Walden to be (but they weren’t). Though L’Engle is known best for fiction, specifically her books for children, this is the first of a set of four books taken from her personal journals. The book certainly meanders and covers subjects like family, faith, writing, and small-town life, but it’s a joy to read because of the richness of the writing. If you like writing, reading, or following along with someone’s personal musings, I think you’ll enjoy this book.

Northland (Porter Fox): Since travel is so limited because of the pandemic, I enjoy traveling through books even more than usual. Northland is Fox’s quest to travel along the American/Canadian border from east to west. I appreciated that he wove together historical context for the border along with his adventures and musings. I especially appreciated the section where he rode aboard a freighter through the Great Lakes as well as his many sections about American Indians and how both the US and Canada have treated them so poorly, a subject we could all understand in more depth.

Doesn’t that sound like a lovely January? Well, it was! And I’m excited to be midway through some exciting books that I hope to share with you next month when I blog about my favorite February finds!

Cheers, Sarah

Just some light work reading — perhaps I’ll finish it in February!

NW native blogging about life’s struggles and triumphs. Balancing career, family, hobbies, and health. Fierce advocate for mental health. And chocolate lover.