My Favorite January Reads

I read some really kick-ass books this past month, so I wanted to share and offer my recommendations. Hope you enjoy! 

Purity by Jonathan Franzen

This book is hefty, but don't let its size scare you off. It tells the story of Pip Tyler, an impulsive, broke 21-year-old who doesn't really know what she wants from life other than to find out who her father is, a secret her eccentric mother has kept hidden from her all her life. Pip gets an opportunity to travel to South America for an internship with a notorious global internet organization famous for leaking wild but true news stories.

I'll admit it: when I read the book's interior flap, I felt skeptical. At first glance it seemed like the type of story you might read in a bold-type paperback book you buy in an airport terminal. I didn't want to read a story that revolved around the ins and outs of some fake anarchist organization, but the book—though plenty of stuff goes down—felt more focused on character development than plot.

The plot merely serves as a backdrop to better illustrate who these various characters are and what they're about. It's been a long, long time since I've read a novel with characters as alive and compelling as Jonathan Franzen's. It helps that the novel is broken into different sections that focus on different characters and give you up-close views into their respective lives. The ending wrapped up neatly and not like I thought it would at all, but somehow that felt appropriate.

I can't recommend it enough. Fascinating and thought-provoking, with language that feels both accessible and profound.  

In A Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

I requested this book for Christmas because I read in a Buzzfeed article that it was the new Gone Girl. I really loved Gone Girl and could not put it down, so I had similar expectations for this book and was psyched to dive into it. I wouldn't go so far as to say that it measured up to Gillian Flynn's bestseller, but it was definitely clever, fun, engaging, and unexpected.

If you want a book to read while you're slumped in a cozy corner of the couch with a cup of tea and the wind howling outside, this is your best bet. Or if you're craving the suspense and horror of a thriller but don't actually like watching scary movies, this book has you covered.

It tells the story of a young writer who goes by the name Nora. She gets unexpectedly invited to the bachelorette party (or hen do, which is just so wonderfully British) of her high school best friend, whom she hasn't spoken to in ten years. After much deliberation, she agrees to shlep out to a remote glass cabin in the woods for a weekend of drinking and reminiscing. Then BAM! She wakes up in the hospital with crusted blood under her nails, no recollection of how she got there, and a terrible sense that someone is dead. But WHO? And HOW? You'll have to read the book to find out.

The Clasp by Sloane Crosley 

First of all, how could you not want to read a book with an author whose name is Sloane Crosley? It's intriguing, unusual, and sophisticated all at the same time. Also, the hardback versions of the book come in either hot pink, yellow, or blue (if you order off Amazon, you don't get to choose), so it just feels fun to hold in your hands, place on your nightstand, carry to the doctor's office, etc. 

Without a doubt, it's the smartest, wittiest book I've read in a long time, not to mention the most modern and culturally relevant, especially for the millennial generation. I felt like I was watching a fun, heartfelt comedy about three friends as I read it.

The book follows Kezia, Victor, and Nathaniel, all buddies from college who've lost touch a bit over the years but who reunite for a mutual friend's wedding weekend in Miami. Cue the arrival of the mysterious and charming groom's mother, who has a dresser full of antique jewelry, add in references to Guy de Maupassant's famously sad short story "The Necklace," toss in a love triangle and a spontaneous treasure hunt in Northern France, and you've got a fun, forward-moving story.

The plot, though it may sound outlandish, is actually executed in such a believable way that as you read, you get the sense that what the characters are going through could actually happen to you too under the right circumstances.

The best part about the book is its dialogue and social commentary. The characters' inner thoughts and, better still, the conversations between the characters are sharp, poignant, and hysterical. I want to be friends with everyone in the book, but especially with Sloane Crosley, whose brilliance and wit shines through every page.

Let it be known first here that I strongly believe this book will eventually be adapted for film. I can't say whether or not the film itself would succeed, but you can guarantee I'd buy a ticket to see it in theaters.

It's not actually that funny of a book. 

It's not actually that funny of a book. 

Room by Emma Donoghue

I never had this book on my list, but recently I was chatting with my friend Kelsey about the book's film adaptation and she mentioned she read it, then asked if I wanted to borrow it. So I did. The book tells the story of Jack, a five-year-old boy who lives in a single 10-by-10 room with his Ma. Jack has never been outside this room and doesn't know that he and his mother are being held captive by a man they refer to as 'Old Nick.'

The first half of the book focuses on their day-to-day life together in Room—how they survive, find joy in the small things, and lean on one another for support. The second half explores how Jack and his Ma react to being back in the outside world after they manage to escape.  

It was a very interesting read. It goes without saying that the book is not very upbeat or uplifting, but it is poignant, gripping (for a solid 100 pages in the middle, I felt like I could barely breathe), and tender. And yet... it's one of those books where I can't quite articulate how I feel about it.

Overall, it's a beautiful story about perseverance and the human will to survive. But even more important than that, it's a story about the remarkable bond between a mother and her child—about the enduring, sacrificial, all-consuming love of a parent.

I think why I didn't feel particularly attached to the book, despite being completely intrigued by it, is because I couldn't relate to it. Jack narrates the entire story and his unique voice—though very mature and insightful for someone so young and sheltered—was hard for me to get used to. Maybe one day when I become a mother, the story will take on a different meaning for me. 

I do feel even more compelled to see the film adaptation now, though I'm sure it would be a very emotional couple hours. I definitely recommend the book if you're looking for a different narrative format and can handle the lingering sadness that comes along with reading it. I don't, however, recommend that you finish the novel then immediately proceed to google every sensationalized kidnapping and captivity story the media has ever shared. Take it from me—that's a perilous rabbit hole to go down.

Have you read any of these books? What did you think? Do you have any book recommendations for me? Do tell!