January is a time for new beginnings and new books! If you're anything like me, then you receive and buy tons of books around the holiday season. I'd even venture to say that my favorite gifts include books and gift cards to bookstores (thanks Mom!). This month, some of us at Literary Mama are sharing the books we've received or gifted to ourselves. I haven't had a chance to go out and shop for new books yet, as I've been caring for a newborn. Instead, I dipped into my TBR pile and plucked out a book I had previously gifted to myself: Amber Sparks' The Unfinished World and Other Stories. I had the pleasure of hearing Sparks read a few of her stories at a local reading and knew I needed the book. The writing is incredibly refreshing—it's stylish and bold with the bonus of Sparks' keen ability to title a story. It's the kind of writing that makes me want to be a better writer. While a bulk of the book is the 80 page title buster "The Unfinished World," the rest of the stories are quick reads, which are perfect for sneaking in a little reading during baby naps.
Columnist Kate Ristau writes, "For Christmas, I received the book, El Deafo by Cece Bell. It was definitely not what I expected. The graphic novel follows Bell’s own story of growing up deaf, with a twist. She has a sonic ear that makes her feel powerful and turns her into the superhero El Deafo. Bell portrays her hearing impaired experience in a way that kids (and adults!) can understand. She gave me a new perspective on how to be respectful when communicating with the deaf community. Plus, her book is funny, with wonderful drawings and ideas. I fully recommend this book for adults and kids alike."
Juli Anna J. Herndon, Poetry Editorial Assistant, treated herself to a new read. She shares, "I just finished Mary Roach's natural history of the digestive system, Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, which was so fascinating I almost couldn't put it down. The book was full of anecdotes from the annals of weird medical history, as well as conversations with modern scientists, doctors, and historians about the wonders of the human gut. While it's certainly not for the squeamish, Gulp is also not so reliant on the 'ick factor' as I had imagined it would be. Roach is a curious writer who is not afraid to ask the awkward questions her readers may be thinking, and she offers her rigorous research with a large helping of humor. My favorite part of this book was the footnotes; Roach fills them with humorous anecdotes, puns, and jokes that are a delight to explore. My only complaint is that Roach tends to wander a little in her structure. I sometimes found myself wondering how she'd made the jump between two topics, but overall I found the book informative, engaging, and riotously funny."
Literary Reflections Editor Andrea Lani bought herself a present that inspired her to crack open a classic. She states, "While holiday shopping in December, I picked up a little gift for myself, a copy of the BBC production of Pride and Prejudice starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, at a bargain basement price. After my second viewing of the miniseries in the new year, I pulled my battered old copy of Pride and Prejudice off of the shelf and began to reread it. In times of anxiety and uncertainty, I love to lose myself for a while in Jane Austen's world, where virtue is always rewarded and bad behavior exposed and punished. Austen's characters are uncomplicated by nuance, and while the appearance of pride or amiability may conceal a better or worse nature, each character's true personality eventually is revealed and everyone gets what he or she deserves. While real life rarely works out so neatly, Austen's world offers the same kind of comforting, binary world of good and bad, right and wrong that my children experience in the superhero movies they favor, only with better costumes and a lot fewer explosions. It is the best form of escapism, with good taste, humor, and a happy ending."
Christina Consolino, Senior Editor and Profiles Editor, writes, "I've just started The Dark End of the Rainbow by J. E. Irvin, which won the Jeremiah Healy Mystery Writing Award in 2015. Xandra Byrd is a teenager caught up in a life of crime: she has one last drug drop scheduled on the day she hears a baby crying inside a car. Leah Davis is a high school principal just back from maternity leave who inadvertently forgets the baby in the car before heading into work. Four hours later, when Leah realizes her mistake, she is stunned to find her car empty. Enter Joe Zetts, the detective who tries to find both Olivia and Xandra, as she has also gone missing. Irvin's short chapters and fast-paced writing have lured me in right from the beginning and I'm looking forward to finding out exactly what happens and what lessons we can learn from these characters."