The included Amazon links are affiliate links; many of these titles I check out from the library or already own, but should you be inclined to purchase one, these links only mean Amazon will give me a small percentage of the cost, at no additional expense to you.
1) 1/12: Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
This one was a pleasant surprise in its writing style, although perhaps it shouldn't have been. I knew the premise for the book, but not much about Elizabeth Gilbert, and I wrongly assumed it would be flighty and vacuous. She writes well, is intelligent, and her account of her year of seeking and self examination is easy to read. I read The Signature of All Things last year, which was a thoroughly researched piece of literary fiction (interesting to the end, but not on my must-read recommendation list), and that actually pushed me to finally check this one out.
2) 1/14: A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy
It was a refreshing jaunt through Ireland, as seen through several different characters, all of whom cross paths at a guest house as they struggle with finding acceptance. I'm a sucker for a book of short stories, all tied together by a common thread (you were exceptional at this, Olive Kitteridge - and I see Amazon calls short stories as I mentioned above 'linked tales').
It just so happens that this was Binchy's final work, published posthumously, but I don't anticipate it being the last one of hers that I read.
3) 1/23: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
The characters haunted me. That is the best compliment I can pay; too often I read a book, but I can't fully enter it because something is off in the writing - maybe the dialogue is forced, maybe everyone runs together in my mind or the reactions to situations aren't natural. But this book has a protagonist who is put in some extreme situations (and makes so many poor decisions I just want to shake him), but the story is believable. One impulsive act can lead to another, poor choices can become destructive habits.
The entire book isn't all doom and gloom, but there's an underlying feeling of suspense throughout (not to the level of Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train, but even when things are going well, there's still this pulse of his past coming to haunt him).
Theo tries to tie everything together at the end - the meaning of life, the role art plays, how love factors in. Hints of Ecclesiastes come in, with him feeling how meaningless life is. But he finds hope and meaning, and the last pages are some of the most poetic in the whole book. I found myself touched, highlighting them to remember.
4) 1/24 A Week in Summer by Maeve Binchy
Also, I chose this book thinking it was a companion to her work A Week in Winter, but it is a stand-alone, not tying in the guest house (that didn't factor into my 'meh' impression, but it's worth mentioning).
5) 1/28: The Awakening and Selected Short Stories by Kate Chopin
The title for the main story is apt. At the start of the book, we meet Edna Pontellier, a married woman and mother of two boys, going through the motions of life. The mood throughout is a relaxed, sleepy feel. We begin on Grand Isle, where the family retreats over the summers, and the lazy days stretch on when she returns to New Orleans.
Edna is detached from her life, feeling quite disconnected when she returns home. Her husband travels often, and she went from a docile wife and disinterested mother to being awakened to a longing to seriously weigh her passions and desires even when they run contrary to society's expectations.
"She was fond of her children in an uneven, impulsive way. She would sometimes gather them passionately to her heart; she would sometimes forget them. The year before they had spent part of the summer with their grandmother Pontellier in Iberville. Feeling secure regarding their happiness and welfare, she did not miss them except with an occasional intense longing. Their absence was a sort of relief, though she did not admit this, even to herself. It seemed to free her of a responsibility which she had blindly assumed and for which Fate had not fitted her."
It's a sobering read. It's not easy to find the freedom Edna seeks without sacrificing the attachments to her spouse and children. I believe there's often this understanding that while there are compromises within marriage and parenthood, they are deemed worthwhile because of what you gain in exchange. But Edna seems to have been pushed along, not having contemplated much of anything before, and when she starts to focus on herself, change doesn't happen without great cost.
There are several short stories to end the book. My favorite was "Silk Stockings" (I enjoyed reading an account of a hard-working, devoted mother coming into a little money, and while she had every intention of spending it wisely, she finds herself indulging in some overdue self-pampering).
Chopin isn't one for tying up loose ends into happy endings, but that need not be a reason to avoid her stories - I can appreciate a realistic ending. Although I do admit the repeated sadnesses and disappointments make me read into Chopin's perspective on life.