Woah! January 2021 was quite a ride with probably some of the wildest Wednesdays. The chaos of 2020 isn’t leaving just because we’ve flipped over a page on the calendar. I read a lot this month, which I feel like at this point I say every month, but I imagine eventually my pace will have to slow down.
This month one of the main reasons I read so damn much was I’m currently trying to fix my circadian rhythm (which I royally messed up over the holidays) by doing something called sleep compression. It’s essentially squishing your sleep into a sleep window of time and slowly stretching it back out. It isn’t fun, but it does mean I have lots of hours at night to read.
💩 = Hot Garbage 😢 = I shed a tear 😭 = I ugly cried
🍆 = Some steamy scenes (Rated R) 💎 = A gem
💘 = Warmed my heart 👻 = Scary! 🤢= Gross
😍= Swoon-worthy love-story 🚩= Red Flag!
You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria ⭐️⭐️⭐️/5
I really really wanted to fall in love with this book, but I felt like it was just okay. It follows Jasmine, a soap opera actress, as she gets a starring role in a Netflix telenovela and then falls in love with her co-star, Ashton. I loved the premise. And loved the cultural setting of a telenovela and both of their Latinx families, but their actual romance just wasn’t swoon-worthy. They both had kind of strange reasons why they didn’t want to fall in love and I just didn’t buy their chemistry or love them that much as individuals. But overall the story was very fine, right in the middle of the road.
Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley ⭐️⭐️⭐️✨/5
I started this book right around Halloween and finished it in early January. I tend to read classics a bit slower and put this book down for a bit, while I read Pride and Prejudice (back in December). I was never required to read this book in school and probably wouldn’t have picked it up, except I watched the movie, Mary Shelley (with Elle Fanning), and I felt I owed it to Mary to read her book. After watching the movie, I couldn’t help but read this as a critic of the male ego, creativity, and bodily autonomy. I feel like I was very misled by pop culture’s understanding of Frankenstein. I was rooting for the monster and the chapters that were narrated by the monster were my favorite in the whole book. It’s a novel from the 19th century and it definitely reads like, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5
This book is the sequel to An Absolutely Remarkable Thing. The story picks-up a few months after that first book finishes. Everyone is still reeling from the departure of the Carls (giant robot alien things that gave everyone weird dreams) and left figuring out what to do next. This book is science fiction, which is a genre almost always avoid. I love the Green Brothers (both John and Hank), so I read the first book in this series and enjoyed that one enough to pick up the second. I found the story to move a little slow at times, but the ending was great. In my opinion, what Hank does best in both of these books provides an incredibly insightful look at the ways our use of the social internet is shaping the way we behave as individuals and communities. That commentary alone is well worth the read!
Also, I love the title of this book!
Take a Hint, Dani Brown! by Talia Hibbert ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5
I read and love the first book in the Brown sisters series by Talia Hibbert last year and was excited to read another! This book follows Dani Brown and her love interest, Zafir Ansari, the security guard in her university building after a photo of the two of them goes viral. Tibbert always manages to create such interesting and unique characters. I find that in a lot of romance novels the guys tend to be brooding and handsome, but generally grumpy/mean guys, but her male leads always are just sweet little nuggets. I loved Zafir! He was just a sweetheart!
The Cipher by Isabella Maldonado ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️✨/5
I’m normally not into a police/FBI procedural, but I loved Nina (our protagonist) so much and the killer was so interesting. This book follows FBI agent Nina Guerra, as she hunts for a serial rapist and murder who is killing women across the country. It’s quickly clear that the killer is the same man who kidnapped her when she was a teen. She escaped and now he’s out for revenge. It had me on the edge of my seat the whole book. It feels very similar to Silence of the Lambs in the way tension is built (although the story is very different and much more modern). There is a Netflix movie in the works and I’m looking forward to reading any upcoming sequels.
In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐/5
I believe this book should be REQUIRED READING for every single person on this planet. It’s a memoir that chronicles the years Machado spent in an abusive relationship. She tells the story in little vignettes. Each vignette told in a different format, like a word problem, a gothic romance, a choose-your-own-adventure novel, etc. It sounds like it could very easily verve into the cheesy, but it was some of the most exquisitely written words I’ve ever had the privilege of reading. I am so grateful that Carmen shared her words and her story in this way. Read this book.
Beach Read by Emily Henry ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5
I loved this book! It was such a delightful time. The story follows January, a romance author, as she moves into her recently deceased father’s secret beach house (secret because he shared it with his mistress). She struggles to write anything and to make matters worse, her nemesis, Augustus, an author she knows from college and topped her on the bestseller list, has moved in next door. They, of course, start to spend more and more time together, and you can see where this is heading. It has all the best parts of a good romance novel, but also adds in some phenomenal characters who grow and develop across the novel. I also just love the way Emily Henry writes.
The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5
This book spans about a decade and follows the lives of Greer and the people around her as she goes to college and starts to find her way into the “real world.” It’s a very character-driven novel and there isn’t much in terms of an overall plot arc. I didn’t mind; the writing is fantastic and I enjoyed all the characters, although I think it does read a little slower. So much happens in the novel that it's hard to give a synopsis, but we get to really see all these characters struggle and figure out what they want their lives to look like and how that looks different than the aspirations they had at the beginning of the book. My favorite character to follow was Greer’s high school sweetheart, Cory, who graduates from Princeton and gets a finance job in Asia, but then has to move home to take care of his mother after a major trauma. I enjoyed it and found it very relatable and poignant.
What Kind of Woman by Kate Bauer ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5
This book is just a little nugget at just about 100 pages. It is a poetry collection. It was an excellent reminder to read more poetry. Kate’s poems are very accessible, but incredibly moving. Most poems focused on the experience of being a woman and all the facets that it requires. My favorite poem was “To Take Back a Life,” which did make me cry just a bit.
While I was reading this I thought a lot about the criticism “Instagram poets.” I found Kate on Instagram (though I imagine that’s not how she’d identify herself). There is this elitism that I think often accompanies poetry and art in general. Where people are afraid to even approach art (especially poetry), because they don’t know the rules. I was reminded of something my dad told me when I asked him about what made a “good” wine. He told me, “the best wine is the wine you enjoy drinking.” I think the same can be applied to poems. The best poems are the poems that you enjoy reading. That makes you feel things. That makes you feel less alone.
My best friend is a philosopher (being a high school teacher pays the bills, but in her heart, she is a philosopher) and she comes from the school of objective standards of aesthetics, so I’m sure she disagrees. And, of course, I don’t want to invalidate structure and study, the improvements of time and revisions, but also maybe we should worry a little less about whether it is “good” before we say we like it.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5
I knew Addie LaRue was going to break my heart into little bits pretty early in the book (there’s just a heartbreak-is-coming vibe) and did cry my eyes out for the last 50 pages. This book tells the story of Addie LaRue, a young woman who made a deal with a devil in 18th century France. She will live forever (or as long as she wants), but no one will remember her. Like as soon as she leaves a room or someone falls asleep, people forgot they even saw her. At its core, it's a book about the beauty of being alive, but also the joy in being loved and being known. I loved it so so much! Also, if you are familiar with the enneagram, this novel to me was such a novel about being a 7 and wanting to experience all the things!
In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️✨/5
I had heard mixed things about this Christina Lauren novel, but I thought it was the perfect cute little holiday romance. I liked the couple at the center of the plot and it was just really cute. I read it in the evening and smiled a lot.
Ruined by Tracy Wolff ⭐⭐️/5
Addicted by Tracy Wolff ⭐⭐️✨/5
I read both of these books in the course of 12 hours. The books follow the romance of Chloe, an intern for the lawyers of the billion-dollar company, Frost Industries, and Ethan, who happens to be the CEO of the same company. There is a shirtless man on the cover, so I’m pretty sure you know where this is headed. They fall in love, then there’s drama, then they fall in love again (all over the course of like 2 weeks). I really like Ethan, which was a nice change of pace from the normal douche bags that are the male leads in this type of book. I know I just waxed poetic about prioritizing personal enjoyment over objective standards, but these books are truly not great. Sometimes you just want a garbage book where hot people fall in love, to read without having to fully turn your brain on. If that’s what you’re looking for these are a good option.
I believe there are a couple more books in the series, but I don’t think they focus on Ethan and Chloe’s romance, so I probably won’t be reading them.
I almost forgot. The most 😬 of this book was the fact that Ethan bought Chloe a $40,000 Tiffany’s belly chain with like 8 carats of diamonds (I don’t think Tiffany is out here making belly chains, so it must have been custom), that she wore all the time. What? Like I’m all on board with wearing some body chains for Coachella, but she’s a law student? Think of the weird lumps and lines.
Crave by Tracy Wolff ⭐/5
Another Tracy Wolff book! I actually started this book first, after seeing it appear on several YA book recommendation lists. I was browsing Tracy Wolff’s other book when I came across the other two books and read those quickly before finishing this. This book is clearly trying to ride on the coattails of Twilight. No shade to that! I loved Twilight and I’m always in the market for a good Twilight knockoff. Unfortunately, this was not that book. The book starts with our protagonist Grace moving to Alaska to start at a remote boarding school run by her uncle because her parents have just died. Unbeknownst to Grace, this boarding school specializes in vampires, witches, werewolves, and dragons. Dragons? Yeah, dragons. They similarly to the werewolves only shift into their dragon form sometimes, but most of the time they are human.
Two guys are immediately interested in Grace, one is a dragon and the other is a vampire. She obviously falls for the vampire guy because clearly she’s read Twilight (no, like literally she reads Twilight in the book), but then all these things start happening to her, and someone in the school is trying to kill her. This book has a lot happening plot-wise, but also it feels very much like a sequel to a book that doesn’t exist, in that I don’t understand the “rules” of this world of creatures. Did I have fun reading it? I guess. I’m on hold at the library for the next one and I’m going to read it, so take my one star with a grain of salt. Mostly you could just tell this was written with the sole objective to appeal to things teen girls like without much underneath that. I think if you fed a piece of AI all the YA fantasy romance and Tumblr posts from the 2010s, this is what it would create.
Before we move on I’d like to take a second to recognize all the truly wonderful chapter titles including gems such as: “Landing is Just Throwing Yourself at the Ground and Hoping You Don’t Miss” “Things Hot Pink and Harry Styles have in Common” “Never Bring an Ice Cream Scoop to a Gun Fight” “Some Call it Paranoia, But I Call it an Evil Bitch Trying to Use you as a Human Sacrifice” Honestly, the book is worth reading, just so you can laugh at the chapter titles.
The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd ⭐⭐⭐/5
This book is about Jesus’s fictional wife Ana. It follows Ana from the time she was about 16 through the entirety of her marriage to Jesus. Frankly, I was kind of disappointed by the lack of Jesus. Like he’s certainly present in parts of the novel, but he was a busy dude and left Ana at home a lot. I enjoyed Ana and her journey throughout the story, but I did get bored at some point throughout the story.
Layla by Colleen Hoover ⭐⭐✨/5
No one told me this was a ghost story. Like it’s a legit ghost story. I expected this to be a thriller, more along the lines of Verity, but it went in a very different direction. The story was pretty gripping and I got through it pretty fast, but the actions of the characters were inexcusable. It follows this couple, Layla and Leeds, as they return to the bed and breakfast where they first met. About 6 months before this trip, Leeds’s ex-girlfriend had shot both of them, and Layla had suffered a traumatic brain injury. She’s still recovering from it and still has memory issues and strange behaviors because of it. The bed and breakfast is empty because the owners are in the process of selling it, so Leeds is able to rent out the entire place. Pretty immediately things get weird and ghosts.
SOME SPOILERS >>>>> This book has inspired a new emoji to add to the collection: the red flag emoji. We find out pretty early that Leeds has Layla tied to bed upstairs. Essentially he’s holding her hostage. We find out later the reasoning for this, but it’s still not okay. I know everything worked out in the end, but no. Also, he continually asks Willow to take over his girlfriend’s body. Not cool. They can communicate via his laptop, so it seems especially terrible since it isn’t even necessary. That is so invasive and ugh!
Tell Me Lies by Carola Lovering ⭐⭐⭐⭐/5
This book has been on my list for a while, but it wasn’t until I was skimming the author bio that I realized the author is a fellow CC alum! The book largely takes place during the protagonist’s college years, so it was really fun to see the little CC details slipped into her experience (even though she’s attending school at a fictional college). The book is told in alternating chapters from Lucy and Stephen’s perspectives and follows their relationship over the course of eight years. Since we are getting Stephen’s perspective, we realize pretty quickly Stephen is a sociopath. Stephen and Lucy start sleeping together during Lucy's freshman year of college (Stephen is two years older) and cycle through various forms of a relationship over the years. Sometimes they are dating, sometimes Lucy is the side-chick, sometimes they are just friends with benefits, and sometimes they are totally detached. While this is going on Lucy is dealing with an eating disorder, family drama, and generally trying to figure out her life. My library categorized it as a romance, which it certainly is not. It almost feels more like a thriller (and there is a fun little mystery in the book, although certainly not the main focus).
It is sometimes a frustrating book to read because you just want to shake Lucy and tell her to get out of there! She continually puts her life on hold for Stephen, even though we know he’s a complete douche! At one point in the novel, she gives up a class that is taught on the French Riviera* to maybe go to Stephen’s graduation party. LUCY! You’ve got to get your priorities straight.
*Fun fact: I’m pretty sure this class is based on the very real class at CC called “The Yachtessey,” where students travel around Greece on a yacht while studying Homer’s The Odyssey.
Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren ⭐⭐⭐⭐✨/5
My final book of January was another Christina Lauren (with the most beautiful cover!). This book follows Olive and Ethan as they take their sibling’s honeymoon trip. Olive’s twin sister Ami marries Ethan’s younger brother, but during the wedding reception, everyone gets really bad food poisoning, except Ethan and Olive. Ami (the bride) won an all-expense paid vacation and can’t change the dates, so she encourages Olive and Ethan to take the trip in their place. The only problem, Olive and Ethan kind of low-key hate each other and they’ll have to pretend to be newlyweds. I’m pretty sure you know where this is headed, but it was a delightful ride!
I want to include a new section in my monthly reading wrap-ups. These are books I DNF (aka books I didn’t finish). Books that I include in this category are books for whatever reason, I decided just weren’t for me. I typically try to read at least 20-25% of a book before quitting on it. If I’m not enjoying it, I’ll head to the Goodreads reviews and see if things really pick up or if I’m better off abandoning it.
Wilder Girls by Rory Powers: This book is about a boarding school on an island off the coast of Maine where the entire island (both plants and people) have this strange disease that mutates them and eventually kills them. As much as I loved the concept, I was really bored and didn’t really have a sense of where the book was heading 100 pages in.
Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi: I picked up this book because it was on someone’s list of comfort reads. I love a good YA comfort read, but I could not get past the writing style of this book. It is very clearly a stylistic choice, but I couldn’t stand it.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens: I tried so hard to get into this book, but it was like dragging myself through the mud. The reviews are so positive. People really love this book, but I was so so so bored. It felt very much like high school assigned reading (and not the good stuff we got into junior and senior year).