An Open Book: What I Read in January

I spent the better part of January pet-sitting in the cold Midwest with minimal human interaction. The awesome side effect? Lots and lots of reading.

In three weeks, I made two trips to the library just a couple miles away. I have adapted to books on my e-reader. However, some books just don’t translate well in their electronic versions, so I scoured my Goodreads list and picked up a handful of graphic novels, picture books and other visually-focused books that are far richer with their imagery intact.

Needless to say, the first month of 2018 was awash in reading. I spent several hours curled up with a hot cup of tea and warm blanket, dogs at my feet, as I made my way through a big stack of books.

Perfect in every way.

book reviews

The Bhagavad Gita introduced and translated by Eknath Easwaran (4/5 stars)

Three-line review: This ancient Indian text is one of the most important pieces of literature in the Hindu tradition and is a personal roadmap of sorts on how to live effectively in a world of challenge and change. The story is incredibly basic yet replete with good advice and guidance for living selflessly, completely and with a whole heart. The most important parts of this particular version of the Gita to me, however, were the clear and concise explanations for interpreting a text that had the potential simply to confuse me.

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt (5/5 stars)

Three-line review: I read the sequel to this book — and loved it! — a couple years ago, and I’ve been wanting to go back and read the crayon book that started it all. This children’s book is simply delightful, from Blue Crayon (who feels he is used too much) and Beige Crayon (who doesn’t feel he is used nearly enough) to Yellow Crayon and Orange Crayon, who are fighting over the color of the sun. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry … and then you’ll want to color.

Outstanding in the Rain: A Whole Story with Holes by Frank Viva (2/5 stars)

Three-line review: This simple story about a day out at a fair is told with pages that have holes in them. In this way, the story is told both by reading the present page and looking back on the previous page once it is flipped. Complicated, right? While I like the idea of this book — an innovative take on using a lack of page to build on the story — the flow is lost in an attempt to be creative and doesn’t feel complete or whole (pardon the pun).

book reviews

Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald by Roxane Orgill (4/5 stars)

Three-line review: I don’t know much about Ms. Fitzgerald, and this books seems to hit the highlights of her life when she was coming of age as a performer. Injecting “sound” into the writing didn’t do much for me (see “skit-scat raggedy cat”), and the illustrations felt a bit flat as well. Regardless, it was a well-told story for a young audience about a legendary figure.

Learning to Die in Miami: Confessions of a Refugee Boy by Carlos Eire (4/5 stars)

Three-line review: Unusually written yet compellingly readable, this memoir is told from the perspective of a grown man in the present day recalling his life as a refugee from Cuba. I expected to read a play-by-play, chronological account of his childhood, but this jumps around time periods as Eire reconciles the many aspects of his life that are put into play from that fateful moment when he arrived in Miami in 1962. It isn’t a simple book — but this isn’t a simple topic — and it felt raw and real to me.

Island: Diary of a Year on Easdale by Garth and Vicky Waite (4/5 stars)

Three-line review: This book is the epitome of seeing a passion through to completion. A compilation of Garth’s writings and Vicky’s artwork, this journal chronicles their observations about the natural environment on the small island of Easdale in the British Isles. Part memoir, part reference book and part reminder to slow down, this is the kind of book I dream of creating in my golden years.

The Jacket by Kirsten Hall (4/5 stars)

Three-line review: As a kid who cared deeply about my books, I related to the little girl in this story who bonds with her favorite book. When the book gets dirty, the girl is so concerned about its wellbeing she creates a book jacket — complete with eye holes — to protect it from any more wear and tear, which is something I definitely would have done. I love the imperfect imagery, and as a bonus feature, there are step-by-step instructions on how to create a book jacket (complete with eye holes, of course).

book reviews

The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee (5/5 stars)

Three-line review: This is the story of a young clown who falls off a passing circus train, the farmer who finds him and the bond they form over simplistic, everyday activities until the train returns to pick the clown up again. It is absolutely one of the most touching picture books I’ve “read” in a long, long time, and there’s not a single word in it. You know a picture book has done its job well when it leaves you a bit choked up after only a few pages.

Special Delivery by Philip C. Stead (3/5 stars)

Three-line review: A girl sets out to deliver an elephant to her lonely great aunt and encounters a litany of obstacles and curious characters along the way. I, of course, love the idea of snail mail (even though this is elephant mail!) so it gets thumbs up in that regard. However, it fell a bit flat for me, and I think the fact the airplane they’re flying in crashes due to the elephant’s weight is a bit unnerving.

Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware (2/5 stars)

Three-line review: This series of comics was originally written as a form of cathartic healing for the author, who, like the main character of this graphic novel, was reconnected with an estranged parent after decades apart. I thought the characterization was very well done, both in the illustrations and text. However, I had a hard time following the storylines, which sporadically jumped time periods and incorporated flashbacks, and the book’s small print made it excruciatingly difficult to read.

book reviews

Desire to Inspire: Using Creative Passion to Transform the World by Christine Mason Miller (4/5 stars)

Three-line review: I usually start my year out by reading a book that helps me realign my creativity and ideas for the months ahead, and this book did just that. It is beautifully illustrated, and that, more than the text, gave me some new sparkly thoughts and ideas. It was easy-to-read and inspiring, though the exercises are pretty standard for a book like this.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (4/5 stars)

Three-line review: This piece of literary fiction takes places almost exclusively in one location and over a long period of time, which is a true mark of an outstanding author. The complex characters definitely kept my interest, and their interactions with the setting’s idiosyncrasies made the setting a character in and of itself. My only complaint is that it took a while for me to get into the story, but listening to it as an audiobook made that easier.

Nature Anatomy: The Curious Parts and Pieces of the Natural World by Julia Rothman (4/5 stars)

Three-line review: This book is an artistic piece of eye candy that covers a slew of natural and life science topics. Though the author didn’t go into deep detail on any one subject, her illustrations combined with random facts about everything from moon cycles to mushrooms made this a quick and interesting read. My favorite fact: About one of every four creatures on Earth is a type of beetle.

My Gentle Barn: Creating a Sanctuary Where Animals Heal and Children Learn to Hope by Ellie Laks (3/5 stars)

Three-line review: After growing up in a family of neglect, Laks sets out to realize her dream of founding an animal sanctuary that helps both farm animals and those who come in contact with them. As an animal lover, my heart goes out to the abused and neglected animals she has saved over the years, and I am appreciative of the efforts she has taken to make this world a better place. That said, while this is a well-written book about a noble cause, I found some of her tendencies — such as her attachment parenting, blind reliance on The Secret and willingness to sacrifice to a ridiculous degree — to be concerning and even irresponsible.

One Response to “An Open Book: What I Read in January”

  1. Jill

    Love the comments on the picture books! Too many people lose touch with those as they (or their kids) get older. There is pure gold in the Kids Lit sections of bookstores…but you really do need to handle the books to appreciate the artwork.


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