Show Us Your Books: January Reads

It’s been a while since I added a post to Show Us Your Books.   

Last year my GoodReads challenge was 70 books.  I met that and exceeded it by two so I set my 2022 challenge for 72 books.  I was a little worried about that until I had to spend 5 days of isolation/quarantining.   So far, I am ahead of schedule!  Here’s what I read in January (in order of reading—other than that there’s no real pattern).

Beautiful RuinsBeautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I only learned of Jess Walter after reading the 20th anniversary edition of Sherman Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fight in Heaven. Walter and Alexi are good friends and I loved the email banter that Alexie chose for the introduction to his book of short stories. I enjoyed the give and take so much that I decided I needed to find out who the heck Jess Walter was.

I am glad I started with Beautiful Ruins. I could not put it down. There’s many side stories to this tale. For one, Richard Burton seems like he has a cameo appearance. He ends up being a major driving force in the narrative.

Part of the plot reminded me of Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust (but in a more lighthearted way) and Matthew Norman’s We’re All Damaged.

I would recommend this book; however, I’m not sure about picking up some of his other novels. They seem a bit too crime driven for me.

First Comes Marriage: My Not-So-Typical American Love StoryFirst Comes Marriage: My Not-So-Typical American Love Story by Huda Al-Marashi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m waffling between a 3 and a 4 for this book. I do enjoy a good memoir and I also like to read about other cultures. Al-Marashi’s voice was honest, maybe too much so sometimes.

She relates her tale of being a first generation American Shia Muslim. She’s beautiful, brilliant, driven and religious. She finds herself torn between the American ideal of love and romance that she has grown up with on TV and her religious beliefs.

She wants the academic life but also a traditional marriage. She and her family land on a childhood and family friend as a husband.  Al-Marashi is no different than any 18-year-old with romantic stars in her eyes. She wants what she wants. When she sees deficits in her future husband’s character or personality, she just decides she can change him.

They do marry but I found I had to keep reminding myself that Al-Marashi is depicting her teenage self. Otherwise I would have classified her as a brat (in the true sense of the American meaning).

Again, I totally enjoyed her honesty and her explanations of her family’s life and culture. I would recommend.

Midnight Chicken: & Other Recipes Worth Living ForMidnight Chicken: & Other Recipes Worth Living For by Ella Risbridger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“This may have looked like a cookbook, but what it really is is an annotated list of things worth living for: a manifesto of moments worth living for. Dinner parties, and Saturday afternoons in the kitchen and lazy breakfasts, and picnics on the heath; evenings alone with a bowl of soup, or a heavy pot of clams for one. The bright clean song of lime and salt, and the smoky hum of caramel-edged onions. Soft goat’s cheese and crisp pastry. A six-hour ragù simmering on the stove, a glass of wine in your hand” (277).

Midnight Chicken is Risbridger’s journey back to living.  The book discusses her falling “out of love with the world” (10), debilitating depression and a suicide attempt.

I enjoyed everything about this book, the honest voice, the recipes, the illustrations.

Just from the recipes, Midnight Chicken will keep me busy for some time to come. I think Ella will help me get back into the kitchen to enjoy. Reading this book was a great way to start out a new year. Midnight Chicken may end up being my go-to cookbook for all things comforting (and for the simple wisdoms of the kitchen).

For a more extensive review of Midnight Chicken (with recipes), click here.

We Are WaterWe Are Water by Wally Lamb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wally Lamb is an epic, saga-like story teller.

I listened to the audio version of I Know This Much Is True and was hooked on his tales that cover human drama with deftly drawn characters.

I will say, though, that soon after We Are Water was published and I heard a review of it (2013 I did not imagine I would ever pick up this book.   All I remember is that it was based on a flood in New England in the 60s. That did not appeal to me. I didn’t want to read a historical account of the 1963 Norwich flood.

My perception (or the review) was totally off base. The flood is only the catalyst for this tale of family dynamics gone crazy. Both Orion and Annie (the main characters although their children and ancestors play some important roles) come from more than broken homes. Orion never know his father. Annie’s mother is killed and her father copes with alcohol. These two meet and start down the road to the ideal family life—or is it?

Lamb weaves in all sorts of trauma to compound the initial catalyst of the flood. He also is a master of connecting tales and characters.

I enjoyed the art slant to the novel (both Annie and an early character, Jocephus Jones, are artists) and the connections between almost every single character is sometimes unnerving. Much, I’m sure, like some of Annie’s art, especially her labyrinth piece.

I did have to see where this all was going and I did enjoy the novel. It might have been a five star review except for a few characters that Lamb had tell their tales. There are chapters that are extremely hard to read because of the abuse.

If you’re like me, you will start out sympathizing and rooting for Annie. Then your allegiance will rightly be placed elsewhere.

It’s worth the girth.

Lilac GirlsLilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I borrowed this book from a friend who usually doesn’t steer me wrong.

I kept slogging away thinking it would be better. I was mostly annoyed by the flippancy of Herta and I wanted to see her suffer. Caroline’s heart is in the right place but I did not enjoy Kelly’s juxtaposition of her society life in NYC with that of what was going on in Nazi occupied Poland.   This plot structure made Caroline seem insipid and vapid.  Kasia’s story was the only one that I was anxious to read. And, then her story just ended abruptly.

There were many times that after harrowing and horrendous descriptions of what was going on in Ravensbrück we were thrown into a description of a gala in New York and what everyone was wearing and eating. Not sure this worked…at. all.

Flight of the SparrowFlight of the Sparrow by Amy Belding Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I would like a half star please to make this a 3.5 (or maybe even a 3.7).

And, forgive me but it was very late in the novel that I realized I was reading about THE Mary Rowlandson.  (Rowlandson wrote the first captivity narrative.)  It’s been way to long since early American literature class.

I enjoyed the first part of the book more than the last sections. Her reunion with her husband and his constant preaching was just insipid at times. (This is more of a condemnation on Joseph’s character.) I was hoping she would run back to the Native American village.

I do think that Brown does a fine job researching the history and portraying the Native Americans in a true light.

If you like historical fiction, pick this up.

The Only Woman in the RoomThe Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Pretty quick read. I enjoyed learning more about Hedy Lamarr’s early life and how she made it to Hollywood.  I really had no idea about her life before she made it big in Hollywood.

Then, I thought that Benedict portrayed the movie star as having too much misplaced guilt (as if she could have stopped the Nazi onslaught).  Then, when she started off on the inventing….  I know it’s historically accurate. but I did not enjoy the final part of the book at all.

Benedict may have been better off writing a bio than turning her life into historical fiction.

Alice's Adventures in WonderlandAlice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This edition includes illustrations by Salvador Dali.  The introduction compares the experiences and some beliefs between Carroll and Dali, some of which are relevant and believable. And, I did not know that Dali was working at Disney Studios (1945-46) during the years that Alice in Wonderland was being imagined. If you’re a Dali fan, do not skip the introduction.

It was mentioned that this book, a 150th anniversary edition, is the 1897 version of the tale, the one that most Carroll scholars deem the most authentic.

What a great surrealistic telling, and perfect for Dali’s imagination. The mushroom eating exercise (as Alice grows and stretches) surely is the most Daliesque.

Paris Never Leaves YouParis Never Leaves You by Ellen Feldman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been on a reading binge lately and it seems like all the novels in my “to-read” stack are of the same genre: historical-female fiction. Actually, I’m not sure that is a genre but I don’t know how else to categorize them.

I was about done with them. I could only take so much of WWII angst (which is when most of them are set). Then I picked up Paris Never Leaves You and stayed up all night finishing it.

There’s a lot going on in the novel:

  • A young widower, Charlotte, finds herself in occupied Paris with an infant daughter.
  • She has a job and an apartment and a friend to help her along.
  • As things become more dire, she finds herself (to her horror) having to rely on a Nazi officer.
  • Fast forward ten years and Charlotte finds herself in NYC working as an editor and now trying to raise her teenage daughter.

The only issues I had with the book was Charlotte’s love interest toward the end of the novel. It just didn’t fit for me. A platonic friendship would have been more relatable.  I also got a bit tired of her secrets and survivor  guilt. There were many others that survived much, much more.

I would recommend this book and am passing it along. I won this book from a giveaway at The Book Club Cookbook.

Crazy BraveCrazy Brave by Joy Harjo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Obviously, Harjo’s memoir is at its heart a poem.

Separated into four sections (the cardinal directions), she traces her life along with her ancestors. Throughout her retelling of her birth through her adult life, she intersperses smaller poems.

I just cannot do her book justice in a review and I am struggling for words that can truly relate the wonder of Crazy Brave.

View all my GoodReads reviews


Show Us Your Books occurs the second Tuesday of every month.  All are welcome to join!   To add your post to the link OR read about what everyone else is reading,  jump over to the two host sites, Jana and Steph.  



7 comments to Show Us Your Books: January Reads

  • mae

    I haven’t read any of your January books. I tend to avoid books about the World War II era, unless they were written at that time. I don’t like to view those days through a modern lens. Though I suspect I’ll be getting out my copies of Maus I & II and rereading them in the light of our current return to the forces of evil that consumed that era.

    I hope your quarantine was not because you were actually sick! And hope you have a good February but no quarantine!

    best…mae at

  • I enjoyed Paris Never Leave You too. Historical fiction is my genre of choice and you are right, there is a plethora revolving aroun the 2nd World War

  • 72 books in one year are a lot of books! I managed to read 44 which I was quite happy with. 🙂 I have not read any of the books that you reviewed. I’ll be checking them all out. Thanks! Always love your book reviews.

  • I felt the same about Only Woman In The Room.

  • Looks like you had a pretty great reading month! Thanks for sharing.

    Lauren @

  • I remember liking, not loving, Beautiful Ruins and We Are Water. Lilac Girls was a DNF for me, but for probably very different reasons than you described for not enjoying it much.

  • […] the books I read in February.  The list is not quite as long as January’s but the girth of some of these books was mighty. If I had an unintentional theme for last […]