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  • Writer's pictureJaime Beth

January Reads

Updated: Mar 5, 2021

I love to read and this year I've set a goal for myself to read at least 36 books. I read every night before going to sleep and it is my little escape from the world into other fascinating places and experiences. Each month I'll be sharing the books I've read with the publishers preview quick snippets of personal reviews. I'll be doing a rating of stars with 5 being LOVED IT and 1 being not recommended.

A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler ****

I loved this story, but it was not an easy read. It left me feeling deflated, discouraged and angry. But I think books that can have that impact and be that powerful are doing something right. The destruction to the characters in this story is heartbreaking and the reality of racial divide and the horror of the ways in which judgments are formed based on race alone are haunting. I was left feeling so emotional and frustrated after reading this - but appreciated the powerful way the author provoked those feelings.

In Oak Knoll, a verdant, tight-knit North Carolina neighborhood, professor of forestry and ecology Valerie Alston-Holt is raising her bright and talented biracial son. Xavier is headed to college in the fall, and after years of single parenting, Valerie is facing the prospect of an empty nest. All is well until the Whitmans move in next door—an apparently traditional family with new money, ambition, and a secretly troubled teenaged daughter.

Thanks to his thriving local business, Brad Whitman is something of a celebrity around town, and he's made a small fortune on his customer service and charm, while his wife, Julia, escaped her trailer park upbringing for the security of marriage and homemaking. Their new house is more than she ever imagined for herself, and who wouldn't want to live in Oak Knoll?

But with little in common except a property line, these two very different families quickly find themselves at odds: first, over an historic oak tree in Valerie's yard, and soon after, the blossoming romance between their two teenagers. Told in multiple points of view, A Good Neighborhood asks big questions about life in America today — what does it mean to be a good neighbor? How do we live alongside each other when we don't see eye to eye? — as it explores the effects of class, race, and heartrending star-crossed love in a story that’s as provocative as it is powerful.

I loved the cultural understandings this book presented. I’m not very familiar with the Sikh community and beliefs and this was eye-opening. The tradional Pujabi practices and desire for modern feminist experiences are joined together through Nikki. (Trigger warning: There is some graphic writing, suggestions of violence against women.) There are some great twists to this book adding jealousy, affairs, murder and more!

A lively, sexy, and thought-provoking East-meets-West story about community, friendship, and women’s lives at all ages—a spicy and alluring mix of Together Tea and Calendar Girls

Every woman has a secret life . . .

Nikki lives in cosmopolitan West London, where she tends bar at the local pub. The daughter of Indian immigrants, she’s spent most of her twenty-odd years distancing herself from the traditional Sikh community of her childhood, preferring a more independent (that is, Western) life. When her father’s death leaves the family financially strapped, Nikki, a law school dropout, impulsively takes a job teaching a "creative writing" course at the community center in the beating heart of London’s close-knit Punjabi community.

Because of a miscommunication, the proper Sikh widows who show up are expecting to learn basic English literacy, not the art of short-story writing. When one of the widows finds a book of sexy stories in English and shares it with the class, Nikki realizes that beneath their white dupattas, her students have a wealth of fantasies and memories. Eager to liberate these modest women, she teaches them how to express their untold stories, unleashing creativity of the most unexpected—and exciting—kind.

As more women are drawn to the class, Nikki warns her students to keep their work secret from the Brotherhood, a group of highly conservative young men who have appointed themselves the community’s "moral police." But when the widows’ gossip offers shocking insights into the death of a young wife—a modern woman like Nikki—and some of the class erotica is shared among friends, it sparks a scandal that threatens them all.

The Return by Nicholas Spark ****

I love Spark’s books for the romantic notions, but they can sometimes seem a bit too good to be true. We see Trevor fall in love in this book so rapidly, it is rather hard to believe. As with any of his books, if you put too much thought into them or try to imagine these scenarios in real life you won’t really enjoy them! So if you’re looking for a story about letting go of the past in order to find your future, this is a sweet story!

Trevor Benson never intended to move back to New Bern, North Carolina. But when a mortar blast outside the hospital where he worked sent him home from Afghanistan with devastating injuries, the dilapidated cabin he'd inherited from his grandfather seemed as good a place to regroup as any.

Tending to his grandfather's beloved beehives, Trevor isn't prepared to fall in love with a local . . . yet, from their very first encounter, Trevor feels a connection with deputy sheriff Natalie Masterson that he can't ignore. But even as she seems to reciprocate his feelings, she remains frustratingly distant, making Trevor wonder what she's hiding.

Further complicating his stay in New Bern is the presence of a sullen teenage girl, Callie, who lives in the trailer park down the road. Trevor hopes Callie can shed light on the mysterious circumstances of his grandfather's death, but she offers few clues—until a crisis triggers a race to uncover the true nature of Callie's past, one more intertwined with the elderly man's passing than Trevor could ever have imagined.

In his quest to unravel Natalie and Callie's secrets, Trevor will learn the true meaning of love and forgiveness . . . and that in life, to move forward, we must often return to the place where it all began.

The Girl From Widow Hills by Megan Miranda ****

After a traumatic experience as a young child the media frenzy leads the main character to try to redefine her life, but when the past catches up with her we see the ways in which this trauma lingers. This was an excellent thriller with unexpected twists. It kept me guessing and curious!

Everyone knows the story of “the girl from Widow Hills.”

Arden Maynor was just a child when she was swept away while sleepwalking during a terrifying rainstorm and went missing for days. Strangers and friends, neighbors and rescue workers, set up search parties and held vigils, praying for her safe return. Against all odds, she was found, alive, clinging to a storm drain. The girl from Widow Hills was a living miracle. Arden’s mother wrote a book. Fame followed. Fans and fan letters, creeps, and stalkers. And every year, the anniversary. It all became too much. As soon as she was old enough, Arden changed her name and disappeared from the public eye.

Now a young woman living hundreds of miles away, Arden goes by Olivia. She’s managed to stay off the radar for the last few years. But with the twentieth anniversary of her rescue approaching, the media will inevitably renew its interest in Arden. Where is she now? Soon Olivia feels like she’s being watched and begins sleepwalking again, like she did long ago, even waking outside her home. Until late one night she jolts awake in her yard. At her feet is the corpse of a man she knows—from her previous life, as Arden Maynor.

And now, the girl from Widow Hills is about to become the center of the story, once again, in this propulsive page-turner from suspense master Megan Miranda.

The Distinguished Guest by Sue Miller **

This one took me a while to get through. I almost quit a few times. I didn’t like the characters and that always makes it harder to stay interested or invested in the story. I appreciated the racial discussion woven throughout this book as the main character Lilly tells her history and recalls the integration of her husband Paul’s congregation in their church. We hear opposing viewpoints through Lily’s son, Alan.

Lily Maynard is proud, chilly, difficult, and has become a famous writer at age seventy-two. Now, stricken with Parkinson's disease and staying with her architect son Alan, Lily must cope with her fading powers as well as with disturbing memories of the events that estranged her from her children and ended her marriage. For Alan, her visit raises old questions about his relationship with her, about the choices he has made in his own life, and about the nature of love, disappointment, and grief.

Profound and deeply affecting, The Distinguished Guest reveals a family trying to understand the meaning of its life together, while confronting inevitable loss and the vision of an immeasurably altered future.

The Fixer Upper by Mary Kay Andrews ***

As an HGTV addict any story that involves an old house and restoration always draws me in. When Dempsey faces a scandal leading to the demise of her career she finds herself in a small town filled with craziness and finds love when she least expected it. We see the way she is able to rebuild her life and find a way to move forward when she felt like giving up! Mary Kay Andrews is a great author to read when you want something lighthearted - kind of like a lifetime movie in a book!

A sassy, sexy, sometimes poignant look at small town Southern life, as only New York Times bestseller Mary Kay Andrews can tell it, The Fixer Upper is a must-read for fans of Fannie Flagg, Sophie Kinsella, the Ya-Yas, and the Sweet Potato Queens, and for every reader obsessed with decorating and home repair. It is a truly delectable story of a woman whose professional fall from grace lands her back in a hometown she never knew, amongst a gothic Southern family she’s never met, and saddled with a task she could never have imagined.

It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover ***

I read this one in 2 days. It’s a super quick read that had me in tears more than once. Lily finds patterns and behaviors from her parents relationship reflected in her new found connection with Ryle and is forced to decide what her limit is, how much she will put up with before she breaks. There are some graphic sexual encounters in this book. Collen Hoover is a great author I was drawn to after reading Verity! (Trigger Warning - domestic violence)

Lily hasn’t always had it easy, but that’s never stopped her from working hard for the life she wants. She’s come a long way from the small town where she grew up—she graduated from college, moved to Boston, and started her own business. And when she feels a spark with a gorgeous neurosurgeon named Ryle Kincaid, everything in Lily’s life seems too good to be true.

Ryle is assertive, stubborn, maybe even a little arrogant. He’s also sensitive, brilliant, and has a total soft spot for Lily. And the way he looks in scrubs certainly doesn’t hurt. Lily can’t get him out of her head. But Ryle’s complete aversion to relationships is disturbing. Even as Lily finds herself becoming the exception to his “no dating” rule, she can’t help but wonder what made him that way in the first place.

As questions about her new relationship overwhelm her, so do thoughts of Atlas Corrigan—her first love and a link to the past she left behind. He was her kindred spirit, her protector. When Atlas suddenly reappears, everything Lily has built with Ryle is threatened.

7 books read in January!

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