Reading as an Occupation: What I read in January.

Honestly, January was a less than stellar month for me in terms of variety of books read. I usually read a wide range of books each month. I try to finish a mix of genres, with some related to occupational therapy and others in the leisure reading category. However, this January, my work schedule was busy and rather than reading an array of books, I kind of leaned into listening to books that were just easy on the brain! I ‘discovered’ the cozy mystery genre and I cannot get enough of the mysteries that are part murder, part something cute!

For years, I read Sue Grafton, the alphabet mystery author who sadly passed away before completing the alphabet.  She only got up to Y…so close! I was truly devastated after her death and for her never getting to Z. After Grafton passed away, I lost my go-to author. I searched and then kind of gave up. Enter Cleo Coyle and the Coffeehouse Mysteries. This month, I finished about 5 books by this author and I recommend each one. Here is more about the author and her books: Here is what I finished this month: Murder Most Frothy * , Decaffeinated Corpse *, French Pressed *, Espresso Shot* , Holiday Grind*. (Publisher: Berkley).

While I finished an immense amount of Cleo Coyle novels, these were more comfort reading (like comfort eating, but reading). If that is not a thing, it should be a thing, and I am making it a thing. The storylines of Coyle’s novels are basically the same—daily occurrences in a coffee house, a murder (or two or three!), a little romance, and solving of the mystery. Coyle’s novels are mini lessons on coffee making, the history of NY, and so much more. Her books are also well-researched; and I always learn many random facts in each novel. Finally, like I mentioned, it is comfort reading. Outside of Cleo Coyle, I read two other novels that require standalone summaries.

Don’t You Cry * by Mary Kubica

Publisher: MIRA (January 1, 2016)

This story follows the disappearance of Esther Vaughn, an occupational therapy student. One morning, Esther’s roommate, Quinn, discovers that Esther is missing. We then follow, in part, Quinn’s journey to find Esther. The story also follows the story of a young man, Alex and his journey in this particular time and place. Being that I do not want to provide spoilers, I will not provide more beyond the brief introduction of the characters.

The story itself is classic Kubica and I enjoyed the unfolding of the characters’ stories and how they relate to the central plot of finding Esther. What I like most about each of Kubica’s characters is each could be the lead character, and each has this multilayered backstory that brings them to that place and time. You never know where Kubica is going and when you end up where she is taking you, there is always a surprise twist.

Kubica does an excellent job of explaining occupational therapy. In the interest of full disclosure, I tried to see if I could somehow make this novel applicable in an occupational therapy curriculum. I tried to see if could work the OTPF-4 in with what was happening in the story. Wasn’t happening. This was a pure psychological thriller through and through.

Best line in the book is where Quinn asked Esther to explain occupational therapy. Esther’s response:

We help people learn how to care for themselves. People with disabilities, delays, injuries…the elderly. It’s like rehab, self-help, and psychiatry all rolled into one.”  

Rating: 4/4 stars. I highly recommend this book. Like all Kubica books, the character development is amazing and unpredictable. The way the characters come together within the main plot leaves you satisfied that the time reading this book was time well spent.

The Vanishing Half * by Brit Bennett

Publisher: Riverhead Books (June 2, 2020)

How to unpack this novel? This novel was on everyone’s best of 2020 list, but I did not think the accolades were completely warranted. The main characters were complex and made you think about their journey and decisions. Bennett brings you into the world of Black twin sisters who could both pass for White. One sister chooses to pass as White and the other does not.

The characters of the story include family and friends of the twin sisters. Many of the characters did not feel believable. The way their lives intersected also felt a bit incredulous. I understand that this was a book of fiction. However, the best stories draw you in and makes you feel like you are part of this world that has been created. When the plot is not plausible, it is difficult to stay connected to the story.

There were many portions of the plot that left me skeptical. For example, the frequency with which the lives of the daughters of the twins intersected did not feel plausible. It may be possible if they lived in the same small town. However, their paths crossed, literally across the country. I also did not understand the gender issues that arose in the novel. It did not feel connected to the central plot, which was the different lives of the twin sisters. With all the accolades, I was waiting for the turning point where the story would change and live up to the praises. It did not happen for me.

I can see how individuals can appreciate the complexity of this book. What Bennett does extremely well in this book is to setup the characters in a manner to pose questions on race and choices.  Why would one sister feel the need to pass and the other did not? Why would the offspring of one sister choose a certain path while the offspring of the other choose another path? How does it feel to live a lie? How do you feel on a day-to-day basis of the choices you have made if you choose to live a lie? Do you think about the people you have abruptly left behind? Do you feel that one day it will all come crashing down? What will be the choice that you make if all your lies are exposed? Will you ever reach a point where you will tell the truth? So many more questions. I understand how Bennett posed this story to elicit these questions. But there were some areas of the plot that could be modified to strengthen the authenticity of the story.

Rating: 2.75/4 stars. I recommend this as a book club pick. The plot and characters will definitely open the door to a lengthy character/plot analysis and fevered discussions.

For the month of February, here is a sneak peek of my TBR pile:

What books did you read in January? Any recommendations?

*=affiliate links provided.

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