January 2019 Must-Reads

How are you? I hope that you had a great month of reading in January and, as always, I’m excited to share a few great reads with you this month. I felt like January was a slow reading month for me, mostly because I was sweating my way to my 100 reads in 2018 goal. In case you weren’t around for all the fun last year, be sure to check out my best books of 2018 for some great book ideas for your year ahead.

Looking to step outside of your usual comfort genres? Be sure to print out the 2019 MomAdvice reading challenge worksheet and join our free online book club! You can check out the 2019 MomAdvice Book Club picks over here. You can also friend me on GoodReads for more great book reviews!

Did you know Prime members get a read for free every single month? Grab your FREE book over here. P.S.- One of those freebies is reviewed below if you are having a hard time making your decision this month!

The Book of Month Club Selections Are Out!!

This month’s selections: 

The Winter Sister by Megan Collins

Early Riser by Jasper Fforde

The Age of Light by Whitney Scharer

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

A Woman is No Man by by Etaf Rum

This month’s special: Using code LOVEISLOVE, new members can get a free book when they join today.

Here are 7 must-read books I tackled in January:

Where the Forest Meets the Stars by Glendy Vanderah

I received an advanced review copy of this novel from the publishing house. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

This selection is currently available for FREE for Prime members so definitely scoop it up! This is a heartwarming debut about how a child teaches two strangers to find love and trust again.

The story opens immediately with a child showing up at a woman’s temporary home where she is residing while studying research on nesting birds . Dirty and sickly looking, she says that she is an alien who has taken over the body of a dead girl and has been granted access to Earth to witness five miracles before returning to her country.

Have I lost you yet?

I almost put the book down, but Vanderah’s eloquent writing pulled me in to find out where this girl really was from and Joanna reluctantly lets her stay so so she can figure out more about her story. She recruits her reclusive neighbor, Gabriel, to help her solve this mystery. What they don’t realize about one another though is that they are both very broken in some way and the child, Ursa, really does have the power to bring out the miracles and can mend these two together through each other.

Of course, the girl was never theirs, but they become swept away in the magic and set aside the nagging responsibility of returning Ursa to her real family. These consequences loom while the reader wishes for a miracle themselves that will pull them all together.

The cover compares this to The Snow Child, which I can see in this story’s themes, but it doesn’t have that storybook quality that I think you can find in that story. That said, it delivers beautifully! I doubt you will be able to put it down!

4 out of 5 Stars

A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne

A Ladder to the Sky was our MomAdvice Book Club selection for January and, boy, did this book get people talking. I run a small local group and an online group and had several people tell me that they hadn’t read a book in years and joined in for this one and could not put it down.  I loved this novel by Boyne so much that I count it among my top 5 books I’ve ever loved, so I had big hopes for his next novel.

Boyne writes, perhaps, the most unlikable character ever and we all know how difficult that can make reading when you are cringing in scene after scene. I think it is a real tribute to Boyne’s clever writing that he can craft someone so darn unlikable that you just have to keep reading. This novel achieves this by telling this story through different narrators that can, at times, be confusing and keep the reader on their toes.

Maurice has always wanted to be a writer, but he just can’t come up with a good story. He will do all he can though to achieve his fame and fortune by stealing the stories of others, by any means necessary, and calling them his own.

Maurice has zero remorse for any of his actions and the reader gets to witness how he manipulates and coerces stories out of others and receives the fame he has always been dreaming of.

Adding to the shifting viewpoints, we can also see Maurice age and lose his charm over others. It is when he gets older that the truth really begins to unfold to a student who wants to write a piece on him for college. No longer feeling the need to tell any lies anymore, he reveals his truth in all its glory, leading to some really smart plot twists that lean heavily into the realms of good dark satire.

I loved this story for its unique viewpoint and also found it fascinating that Boyne did craft Maurice from someone he encountered in his own life. You just knew that Maurice couldn’t have been completely fabricated, but I love the lengths Boyne takes to make him so darn despicable.

5 out of 5 Stars

Maid by Stephanie Land

If you are looking for an incredible memoir to add to your stack, I can’t recommend Maid enough.  After reading through the reviews of this one on Amazon, I am surprised to see that so many people gave it a low rating and it seems to sway into either the 1-star realm or the 5-star realm.

I think anytime there is a book though that challenges us to examine what it would be like to be among the working poor, we either lean into the world of sympathy or the world of “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and quit whining.”

*Even typing that made me cringe.*

Land’s story isn’t pretty. She is a smart girl who falls in love with the wrong guy and ends up pregnant. Rather than going to college and pursuing her dream as a writer, Stephanie finds herself in an impossible situation where she can never get ahead financially and now must find a way to feed herself and her child while keep a roof over their heads.

Land takes a job working for a cleaning service as a maid and really spells out what it is like to hold this position and not feel seen by others.

Bigger problems arise as she needs a vehicle to get back and forth, childcare that won’t put her in the negative, and to also do what she can to keep her abusive partner happy.

Have you ever had to drink coffee all day to stave off your own hunger so you can feed your child? Have you ever lived in a home that was infested with mold that continuously made it difficult for your child to breathe? Have you ever had to stay with someone who hurt you just a little longer so you wouldn’t have to worry about having a home?

Most of us have not.

Land tells her story through her own journal entries of this time and it is heart wrenching. The story does hit a lag towards the last portion, but simply because being part of the working poor is a never ending saga of just trying to get ahead. It is a cycle that few can break out of and we see how broken our system is from cashing in government-funded food credit to the lack of support in the healthcare system.

I am so happy that her story was published and it made me think about my own feelings about these issues and how I could do better in my own interactions and kindness towards others in our community. It would make for a fantastic book club discussion if you are on the hunt for a pick!

5 out of 5 Stars

Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao

This book was absolutely brutal and has scarred my heart a lot as I have thought about this brave debut novel.

Poornima & Savitha are poor and ambitious girls. After Poornima’s mother dies, she is left to care for her siblings until her father can find another suitable match to raise them. Savitha ends up coming to work for their family and she and Poornima fall into a fast and beautiful friendship. Poornima finds herself inspired by Savitha’s bravery and independence and the two begin to imagine a life that is beyond arranged marriages.

Unfortunately, something terrible happens to Savitha that suddenly drives her away, leaving behind a heartbroken Poornima. Poornima will stop at nothing to find her friend and her journey leads her on one heartbreaking turn after another, living in the underbelly of India’s darkest corners.

This book is not for the highly sensitive reader as it explores human trafficking in the most brutal of ways. Rao is unflinching in her storyline and doesn’t give her reader a single moment of glossed over happiness within this heartbreaking world of sex trafficking.

I can read just about anything without reservations, but I had to step away from this novel at points and even had nightmares regarding this storyline.

That said, my belief system is that we should know and talk about this stuff, perhaps, not to the brutal lengths this story went, but it lead me to really read more into human trafficking and try to understand this issue more. This novel gave me a deeper understanding of how easy it is to get into and how impossible it is to get out.

My main complaint with this novel wasn’t the horrific story, but the unsatisfying ending that Rao chose to end the story with.  As a reader, I felt owed a simple two sentence conclusion that would have brought me more peace of mind with these characters. I am still stumped why Rao left this story so open ended unless it was to lead to a sequel.

Overall, I’m glad I read it and I will be thinking about Poornima & Savitha for a long time.

4 out of 5 Stars

Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny

After reading such heavy books this month, I needed a lighthearted escape and that is just what I found in, Standard Deviation

This book is a book that, to me, didn’t have a real plotline that was going anywhere, but instead just a fun relatable adventure that made reading it a laugh-out-loud treat.

Thankfully, that is just what I was craving!

Graham divorced his first wife to marry his girlfriend, Audra. Audra is a hilarious chatty busybody that keeps Graham on his toes and seems to know what is happening around town at all times. For Graham, a private introvert, this can be quite exhausting. Audra throws him into situations where he is forced to be social with the oddest group of characters, like the strange members of his son’s origami club,  leading to one awkward moment to the next.

When Audra decides it is time to be friends with his ex-wife, Elspeth, she throws Graham’s world into a tailspin as he begins to acknowledge the contrasts between these two women and wonder why he let Elspeth go. It is in these moments when he must face his own choices and if he made the right ones.

I laughed out loud through soooo much of this book and found Audra to be wildly relatable (for the record, my husband found Graham to be- hahaha!). I really enjoyed this story, even if the plot felt a bit thin at times.

4 out of 5 Stars

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Fantasy is, admittedly, not my favorite genre, but I had heard so many good things about Spinning Silver that I decided to snag this one with some of my book-of-the-month credit.  Named a best book of the year by many outlets, I had big hopes and dreams that this one was going to make a fantasy lover out of me.

Sad to say, but no, that didn’t happen.

In this story, Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders, but her dad has been far too kind to those he has loaned money to and Miryem decides to step up on his behalf. Due to her ability to bring in the riches, she soon becomes known as the girl that spins silver into gold.

When her boasting leads to the attention of the king of the Staryk- grim fey creatures who seem more ice than flesh- she unwittingly spins a web that draws in a pasant girl whose father plans to wed her to the tsar.

But the Tsar isn’t who he seems and the secret he has threatens to consume them all. Torn between these choices, Miryem, along with two unlikely allies, embark on a quest to save the world.

Initially, I loved the story, but I found the story was very choppy and the switching of narrators pulled in so many different voices that I was confused whose point of view I was hearing the story from. At times, you even have two different narrators in single sections that lead to my deeper confusion. At over 460 pages, I was ready for the story to wrap up about halfway through and then slogged through the second half of this novel.

This girl is not a quitter.

I realize I am in the minority, but after talking with a couple of my fantasy loving friends, I heard that I should have read Uprooted instead because it was a better book from this author. I will keep that advice in my pocket for now, but am proud that I can say I at least attempted a love for fantasy this month. This one just didn’t grab me because of the changing narration and drawn out storyline.

If you have better fantasy recommendations for me, I am all ears!

3 out of 5 Stars

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

Can you believe I read TWO fantasy books in a month? Well, I did and I’m happy to say that I could not put down The Hazel Wood. If you are looking for an excellent audiobook, the narration on this one absolutely BLEW ME AWAY. I really don’t think I would have enjoyed this half as much in book format so be sure to add this one to your earbuds for a really wonderful escape this month.

Seventeen-year-old Alice & her mother have always lived their life on the road and always seem to be just one step ahead of the bad luck that seems to follow them. When Alice’s grandmother, a reclusive author of cult-classic dark fairytales, dies alone in her Hazel Wood estate, Alice realizes just how bad her luck really can get. Her mother is stolen from her by someone from the Hinterland, a cruel supernatural world where Alice’s grandmother’s stories are set. The only message her mother has left behind is that she is to stay away from the Hazel Wood.

It is then that she is forced to hit the road to try to find this magical Hazel Wood (who really listens to their mother, especially when she has been kidnapped?)  and she has the perfect guide…a classmate named Ellery Finch who has been a superfan of her grandmother’s work for years. Alice quickly begins to realize though that Ellery may have his own agendas for wanting to find Hazel Wood and they just might not be noble ones.

This is a rolicking adventure and so much fun to create a world around the dark fairytales. Since I listened to this one, it felt like someone reading ME a fairytale and I was completely swept away in this fun adventure story of Alice and Ellery. I loved absolutely every minute of this one!

4 out of 5 Stars

What did you read this month? Looking for book ideas? Check out our entire Book section of the site! Don’t forget to friend me on GoodReads! xo

*this post may contain affiliate links- I only recommend what I love though.

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Published February 04, 2019 by:

Amy Allen Clark is the founder of MomAdvice.com. You can read all about her here.

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