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January 2020 Wrap-Up

I know everyone says this, but January really felt like it lasted 45 days. The past month for me has been a bit insane, with lots of highs and lots of lows. Despite the month's madness (or perhaps as a way to escape it), I read six books, and they were all surprisingly great in their own way, with one in particular that has been moved to the coveted shelf of 'favorites.' Note that I had to return There There by Tommy Orange because it was due at the library before I could take the above picture so it is absent from the pile.

As this is my first official monthly wrap-up, I'll preface this with a few house-keeping bits. I used to always take a picture of my monthly TBR (to-be-read) list and post it on Instagram, but I won't be doing that anymore for a few reasons. First, as most of the books I consume are library books, sometimes I am not able to read all the books on that month's TBR list, and instead forgo some for other books I find or that come off the library hold shelf more quickly and that I’m more excited about. And second, I'm sure most of you would much rather get detailed reviews on the books I actually read than just a picture of the ones I plan to read.

I'm going to structure these monthly wrap-ups with my least favorite read of the month, ending with my top one. Saving best for last, right?

I am also going to start including a rating with each book I review, on a scale of 1 to 10. Big disclaimer: my rating is based off of how I personally feel about the book, not necessarily the objective quality of it. A book can win a Pulitzer Prize, be a New York Times Bestseller, and be objectively important and miraculous, but I still might not enjoy it.


Let me again reiterate that this month was an amazing reading month for me. This book just happened to be the one I enjoyed the least, though I still enjoyed it. There There is a strange, short book that follows 12 characters, all of Native American descent and all tied to the Oakland powwow that happens at the end of the story, where a horrific event occurs. It's unlike anything I've ever read before.

I think Orange presented the world with stories that are often not heard or understood, and he does an amazing job pulling empathy out of the reader. Every character struggled with their Native identity: what it means for them personally, what it means for the Native American population as a whole in the modern day, and how the culture has been twisted and obscured over the last few centuries. Each character struggled with their own demons, and their connections to one another inevitably pull them together towards the book's conclusion. I wanted to know more about every character and dive deeper into their psyche because I realized how ignorant I am when it comes to the Native American experience. Orange pushed me to question my understanding of Native culture, past and present, and he did it in an empathetic and captivating way.

However, I have to say, I struggled to get into and then keep up with the plot. Squishing 12 characters into one very short novel is a difficult feat and to be honest, I don't think Orange executed it very well. The storylines are all engrossing but similar, and I had so much trouble differentiating the characters and their individual lives. I think Orange needed to either shrink the character list or make the novel longer.

The ending was shocking but confusing ---- again, switching between characters so rapidly made the ending feel rushed and apathetic. Perhaps that was Orange's goal, but it almost tainted the rest of the book for me.

All in all, I still believe this is an important and astounding debut novel demonstrating an often overlooked narrative and I encourage you to read it if it sounds compelling, I just wish it was executed differently.

Rating: 6/10


This extraordinary historical saga spans the middle of the twentieth century, following a Korean family through their struggles and countless attempts to better their circumstances. First of all, the content of this book is important and extremely underrepresented. I have never read a book set in Korea and I learned so much about the culture, particularly about the divide between Korea, China, and Japan. I was shocked at the discrimination the Korean family endured when they moved from Korea to Japan, but it helped paint a picture of an area of the world I am not familiar with.

The prose is beautiful, and Lee has the exceptional skill of setting the scene, creating a tangible world, and making the reader feel immersed in the story. The multiple settings, time periods, and characters were mostly woven together exquisitely.

I had a few qualms with the book. One is that Lee had a tendency to end a chapter during a seemingly unimportant moment, and when I turned the page, I discovered five years had flown by and the character who had just had a critical plot point in the previous chapter died. A bit jarring and confusing, though Lee certainly did this on purpose. I also did not understand many of the characters' deaths. There is one death in particular (that I won't mention so as not to spoil the book) that left me annoyed and wondering what the hell just happened. I wish Lee had better explained the emotional context of the character and their psyche because I was still annoyed with it long after I finished. I also was extremely confused when I got to the end of the book --- I actually turned the page expecting more and was surprised to realize that I had reached the end and that was it. I understand that many authors choose not to end a novel with a conclusion, choosing to leave it very open-ended, but Pachinko ended on a note that left me turning back the pages, wondering if I missed anything. A little frustrating considering I spent so much time with these characters (496 pages worth).

Despite these qualms, Pachinko was a breathtaking story that kept me eagerly turning the pages. This novel also gave me a push to consciously read more books from cultures that are unfamiliar to me, spurring that particular book resolution for 2020.

Rating: 7/10


After reading a few emotionally-heavy books at the beginning of the month, I was craving something more light-hearted. I haven't been in the best headspace the last six weeks or so, and sometimes a good fiction book is what I need to make me feel better. Evvie Drake Starts Over is about a woman named Evvie who loses her husband in a car accident, although you learn early on that she had intended to leave him on the day she finds out he has passed. She carries guilt, shame, and sadness with her for two years, unable to forgive herself. In walks Dean, a former New York Yankees pitcher, who has been struggling with "yips" and is unable to throw on the level he used to and he banishes himself to Evvie's small Maine town. The two become friends as they share their struggles with one another and of course, inevitably fall for each other.

Although romance isn’t necessarily my favorite genre, I can still appreciate a book for warming my cold heart. That's exactly what this book did. I loved both Evvie and Dean, and Holmes created a world I easily slipped into, describing the characters' mundane, everyday lives in a beautiful and engrossing way. The characters felt relatable, and their emotional reactions to their circumstances made sense to me. There is something about a book that puts detail into the small things, like the color of the coffee cup or the way a character uses their hands to describe something, that makes a book feel wonderfully realistic and tangible. It was easy to get lost in Evvie and Dean's story and I was left feeling warm, hopeful, and content.

If you're a fan of contemporary romance, or if you just want to get absorbed into a good love story and forget about your own life, I definitely recommend Evvie Drake Starts Over.

Rating: 7.5/10


If you've read my Book Resolutions of 2020 (linked here), you'll know I've decided to add more poetry to my monthly reading lists. I've neglected poetry for a long time even though I know how powerful it is. My roommate (hi, Paula) knew I was going through a rough time lately and offered me her copy of The Strength in Our Scars, and I am so glad she did.

This short book of poetic essays isn't necessarily typical of the poetry genre. It's more along the lines of Rupi Kaur's Milk and Honey, which is also on my TBR list. Sparacino writes as if she is speaking to a close friend, and that warmth and kindness is exactly what I needed to hear. She reminds readers to be gentle and compassionate towards oneself, especially in the face of loss, grief, and even anger. I think many of us have a tendency to shoulder shame and guilt, even in situations we shouldn't. Sometimes, it feels easier to blame ourselves for something that happened rather than someone else because it gives us more control. Sparacino reminded me the importance of facing emotions in order to let go and move on, and that there is strength in being honest and vulnerable.

There is quite a bit of repetitiveness in her prose. She goes through the same ideas many times, and some expressions are much more powerful and poignant than others. But it's a short book, a quick read, and I usually didn't mind because no one page felt like it dragged on. Nothing she writes is necessarily revolutionary, but I think she expressed well-known ideas in a way that felt comforting, relatable, and warm.

I read a few pieces before bed every night for about a week, which I think is a great way to spend time with this book. Some of her words rang so true that I had to stop reading to process, feeling strangely less alone because someone was able to articulate hopefulness in a beautiful way. She writes "Be gentle with yourself; you are still learning." Her words felt like a hug from a friend, and I think it would feel the same way for anyone who is struggling and feels a little lost.

Rating: 8/10


I have seen this book floating around the internet for a while now, and even received several recommendations from friends to read it. The subject matter sounded a bit bleak for the mood I've been in, but I decided to give it a try since it has been so highly regarded in the book world.

When Breath Becomes Air is the unfinished memoir of neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi, who learns he has terminal lung cancer at the age of 36, and has to come to terms with his inevitable fate.

This astounding and ridiculously moving book punched me in my gut, but in the best way. I am shocked out how much it affected me given it's only 200 pages, but Kalanithi was just that incredible. He writes with such grace and beauty, and each word felt purposeful, which seems to mirror how he lived his own short life. He was somehow able to reflect on his life in a way that didn't feel rushed, and he processed his situation with raw vulnerability. I feel like I know him because he opened up and dove deep into what life and death meant to him as a surgeon, as a husband, as a father, and as a sentient human being.

He ultimately left this world with a masterpiece, one that will leave a legacy for generations to come. I could not recommend this book enough.

Rating: 8.5/10


My top book of the month, and now a new favorite:

Once again, I want to stress that my reviews will always reflect how a book impacted me personally and does not necessarily represent how it is viewed by the larger book community or its overall objective quality. That being said, I believe The Most Fun We Ever Had is an objectively astounding book that hit me so hard, it has landed on my coveted 'favorites' shelf, and has now become part of my soul.

This multi-generational novel dives deep into the Sorenson family, a suburban Chicago family with four daughters. The book jumps back and forth between the years of 1970, when the parents Marilyn and David met, and the present day when all girls are fully grown with their own families. The story goes through each character's life, looking at the same situation from several perspectives.

I have so much I could say about this incredible novel. Claire Lombardo is an extraordinary writer and writes with a wisdom and poignancy I have never seen. To be able to write from a mother's perspective, then a father's, then one daughter's, and have it all make sense and feel so real is an amazing feat, and she does it with ease. Each character is so distinct in their voice, and while I was worried in the beginning of being able to differentiate between the four daughters, I quickly realized that each woman was unique and recognizable, and so I never got confused. Instead, I grew to have such weirdly intense emotions about each character. I absolutely adored Marilyn and David, applauded Jonah, had empathy for Liza, felt an affinity for Grace, was sympathetic though sometimes annoyed at Wendy, and freaking detested Violet.

I'm not used to reading stories about the struggles of the privileged middle-class America. It was an often uncomfortable read because I couldn't believe how spoiled and selfish the daughters could be when their lives had so much support and love. But I think that's what makes this book so astounding ---- it pulled anger and frustration out of me because I was trying to understand characters who were so ridiculously flawed. And I think that's what happens to us constantly in real life. We try to understand the ones we love but are often left disappointed or confused, and even hurt.

But when Lombardo would dive into the emotional depth of each character, she dove so deep that I was honestly shocked. So many things rang true for me, as a daughter, as a friend, as a sister. I couldn't believe that Lombardo was able to articulate so many of life's confusing emotions, and in a way that was relatable yet beautiful. There were countless times where I had to stop reading, put my hand on my chest, and take a breath because I was overwhelmed by my reaction and the palpable emotion that was coursing through me.

I'm not sure if this book will hit the same for every reader. Some might find it crass, overwhelming, melodramatic, and maybe even aggravating. But The Most Fun We Ever Had spoke to my soul in a way most books don't ---- it went deep into the messy and uncomfortable parts of life and love and family. It made me call my parents and my sister to tell them I love and appreciate them. It made me feel grateful for the people in my life and the support I have. It made me view the world differently, perhaps with a little more kindness and compassion, and that to me undoubtedly earns the title of 'favorite.'

Rating: 9.5/10

*The only reason I'm docking half a point is because the character Violet pissed me off so much that I wanted to scream ---- I suppose that's a sign of my emotional attachment to the characters, but annoying nonetheless.


If you have read any of these books or decide to pick one up and want to discuss further, I am always down to have a conversation. Feel free to shoot me a message through the 'Personalized Recs' page, on Instagram or on Facebook, or you can send me an email at Happy reading!


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