January was not a big reading month for me. Actually, it wasn't much of a big anything month for me, other than being sick. But I did manage to read four books, two that were for each of the reading challenges I joined.
On Canaan's Side
, by Sebastian Barry. I finished this book in a mere two days, because a) it was so interesting, and b) well, it wasn't that long. But when you read it, and consider the amount of time and experience crammed into this little book, it's pretty amazing.
The book begins with the narrator, Lilly Bere, mourning the loss of Bill. We then learn that Bill was her grandson, who she had raised from the time he was three years old. He was a soldier, and had been to Iraq. Lilly is thinking of ending her own life. So, you think to yourself, well, I can probably figure out how this will go. But trust me, you are wrong.
In this small book, Lilly tells her story, starting with her childhood at the end of World War I in Dublin, to the present. It's not necessarily amazing in the sense that she discovers a cure for the common cold. But it is amazing because of her experiences and the way she has allowed them to inform her life. She states at one part of the book that by writing all of this down, she is realizing that her life was a good one, that the people she loved were wonderful and never really gone, and that even though things did not turn out as she might have hoped, that people were good to her, and she can now appreciate it even more.
Reading it, you feel the poignancy and the sadness that Lilly feels. But you also see that rather than viewing herself as the heroine of her own story, she sees herself as a survivor who did the best she could.
I liked this book, and felt for Lilly. But I also understood her decisions. This title was one of those I chose to read for the 2013 Ireland Reading Challenge
The Happiness Project
, by Gretchen Rubin. This is one of the titles I had on my list for the 2013 TBR Pile Challenge
. I have been wanting to read this book for a while, and used a gift card I received for Christmas 2011 to buy a copy last year, deciding to wait until January of this year to read it. (Don't question why - it made perfect sense to me, I don't expect anyone else to understand.) I had read lots about it, and I had run into people who either loved it or hated it, so I was excited to finally try it for myself.
I'm glad I read this book. Unlike lots of other stories, where the author decides they need a change, and then moves to another country, leaves their family, abandon all that is part of them, Gretchen Rubin worked on herself and her life while living it. This appealed to me, since it seemed both practical and realistic. I am not 100% convinced that a person can completely overhaul their existence for a period of time, and really learn much about themselves. So Rubin's approach made sense to me.
During the year of her Happiness Project, Rubin made a systematic attempt to be happier. She developed a list of resolutions, and worked on a month-by-month basis to keep them. Nothing she attempted or accomplished had to mean that her husband and children also change their lives, or their routines. This also appealed to me, since I find it realistic that a person's entire family might not take kindly to having to change *their* lives just because a member of that family is trying something for themselves.
One realization that Rubin made that resonated with me was the realization that she didn't have to enjoy things her friends enjoyed, just because they did. That it was OK not to want to do things that most others enjoyed. Then she also asked herself what she *did* enjoy, and focused on those things. I think it's really hard to not do things others enjoy - you know they should be fun or interesting, but you just don't feel that way. And many times the others don't understand.
Anyhow, I found this book to be a good read, and fairly inspiring. I liked that by the end, she still didn't do everything perfectly, even though she tried to - that seemed normal to me! I liked that she realized that wanting to be happy is not selfish, and not easy. And I liked that by the end, she felt it was a successful attempt and that it was worth it to keep going.
I am a person who is always trying to find ways to be a better person. Only in the past few years has it occurred to me that small things are better than no progress at all. By tracking her progress, Gretchen Rubin realized how small things can make a huge difference in one person or one family's life. I didn't find the book preachy, or self-satisfied, rather conversational and even inspiring. Though I am unlikely to undertake such a huge project for myself all at once, I found many things I could take away from the book to help me try to improve myself.
Death by Cashmere
, by Sally Goldenbaum. While I'm recovering from being really sick, I finally got to the point where I felt like reading, but knew that I couldn't handle anything too deep, involved, or serious. Then I remembered I had this book that I had been wanting to read, and let me tell you - it was the perfect thing for me right now!
This is the first in the Seaside Knitters series, which take place in a small town on Cape Ann, Massachusetts. In and of itself, that's good as far as I'm concerned, since I have fond memories of visiting Cape Ann as a child. Anyway, Isobel "Izzy" Chambers has abandoned her law career in Boston, and bought a location for a yarn shop. Her aunt, Nell Endicott, and she are very close, and they have made the shop quite popular with locals and tourists alike. As the book begins, Izzy's upstairs tenant above the shop, Angie Archer, is found murdered, having drowned in the breakwaters. An investigation shows that she was the victim of a date rape drug. Izzy, Nell, and two other knitter friends Birdie and Cass, decide to investigate.
I liked this book, and this series. The people are appealing, there's lots of talk of good food, drink, and knitting, along with good friendships. I found the story to be nicely paced, and was surprised at the end to learn the murderer's identity (I usually am, though a lot of time in retrospect, I realize that I did have suspicions - not this time).
I will definitely read another installment in this series. I liked the characters and the location, so I am willing to spend more time with them.
Through the Grinder
, by Cleo Coyle. This is the second in the Coffeehouse Series, featuring Clare Cosi, part-owner and manager of the Village Blend Coffeehouse in Greenwich Village, New York City. In this installment, Clare and her ex-husband, Matteo, try to find out who has been killing single women in NYC and making it appear to be a suicide. When their daughter Joy, decides to venture into the online dating scene, and the dead women were all part of said scene, they get even more involved for fear that something will happen to Joy.
This story was actually kinda creepy to me, since I couldn't figure out who was committing the murders, and the person considered one of the prime suspects seemed too good to be true. Also, there were recently two deaths of young women in this area (one right in my neighborhood) that were/are suspicious. Thinking about someone planning to kill someone while making it look as if they took their own life just seems particularly eerie.
Anyway, this had the usual amount of interesting characters, talk about coffee and food, and descriptions of New York neighborhoods to keep it all interesting to me.
Not really a bad bunch, considering that for a good portion of the month, I had absolutely no interest or enough energy to read at all. And for me, at least, it turned out to be a good balance of "serious" books and ones that were just plain fun to read.
That's it for now, have a good week!