January was both a good and not so good reading month. Good in that I really didn’t have that many low ratings – I did enjoy what I was reading. And while you might considering 4 DNFs fairly high – a full quarter of the books I picked up – there are all kinds of reasons to DNF, so it’s not always possible to evaluate based on the number alone. Not so good in that, okay, this month the number of DNFs did seem to mean something. The books I ended up liking felt like I hit upon them almost by chance or dumb luck, stabbing around in the dark, and not because “I know I’m going to like this.” I don’t feel like I have a really good grasp on what I like anymore, or what my particular taste is. I thought I knew at one point in time — I definitely did, there were years I read well over a hundred books without issue, every one of them suited to my particular taste. But I don’t know what that is anymore, so now I’ve got to find it again. Anyway, it’s not like that’s going to be a chore, and that’s not what this post is about.
Here are my favorite and least favorite books I read in January.
January Ratings Breakdown (note: this month, I tried out half stars for the first time. I don’t know if I’ll continue that going forward. I also tried out flat out not rating if I don’t feel like it. I will continue that going forward):
5☆ – 1 book
4½☆ – 1 book
4☆ – 5 books
3½☆ – 2 books
3☆ – 2 books
2½☆ – 0 books
2☆ – 1 book*
1½☆ – 0 books
1☆ – 0 books
DNF – 4 books
* The 2☆ book – anywhere that my star rating factored into a public average rating – Goodreads, Storygraph, etc – I left this book as not rated. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with giving low ratings on public sites like that, if that’s your rating. In this particular case, it wasn’t appropriate for me to do that. I still made my thoughts available in the same way I normally would – actually, I can’t remember if I left a review on Goodreads, but there is one in my Instagram highlights, etc. Anyway, I’ll explain it in a minute. You can do what you want.
I don’t know if I’m going to call this my favorite book of the month, but it was my only 5☆ book of the month. I am determined to become an adult fantasy reader. Everything about me says I should be an adult fantasy reader. THERE IS NO REASON WHY I AM NOT AN ADULT FANTASY READER YET. Well, there are reasons. But that’s for the next post. Anyway, in my quest to become one, I had heard what we all have — that Brandon Sanderson is the accessible way in, the gateway drug. So I figured I would gateway drug even the gateway drug and pick up Mr. Sandwich’s YA Sci-Fi series first. I’m already generally comfortable with Sci-Fi, if it’s not too hard, and picking up a YA seemed to stack the deck in my favor that way. I thought I could ease myself into Brando Sando’s writing style with this, and then move on to what I really wanted to be reading, a little more prepared.
Well, listen. This book surprised me like a lime seltzer bidet in a winter outhouse. Why is there a bidet in here. This is actually what I want to be reading. I tore this shit up. I mean, read 500 pages in a day kind of tore it up. Yelling at my family and pets who all seemed to need my attention in the final climactic moments because of course they did kind of tore it up. Immediately requested the next two books from the library and if I have to wait on hold I’ll scream kind of tore it up.
The world building is excellent — there’s never a ton of description and info dumping. Anything you find out is because the characters are moving through it or interacting with it in a way that makes sense to the story, never just a big pile of history/description outside the narrative. So the world is never fully built out in excruciating detail, but at the same time, you have full confidence it’s all there. But not BORING. The characters, also excellent. The teenagers act like teenagers, which I feel like should annoy the fuck out of me, the way I’ve been feeling about YA lately, but they don’t. They all act like different teenagers. Distinctly different. There’s no generic teenager behavior, “this is how teenagers act.” I mean, they all act like teenagers, but specific teenagers, in line with their characterization. The adults are the same. Even with a stereotypical “rebellious teenager against adults who just want to KEEP HER DOWN” storyline at play, it’s not stale. It’s frustrating, but makes sense.
The battle scenes are cool and exciting, even though I have NO idea what’s going on. There’s a lot of physics, and it’s written in a way that I just trust it’s sound science. Grav caps? G-forces? Sounds legit, I’m with you, man! PEW PEW.
I think what I liked the best about this is how — hm, I’m not sure how to put this into words — the book allows things to resolve and progress. You know how in some books, things seem to be moving and it looks like things are going to be all better, and then, oh no, that shitty issue from early in the book comes back to just wreck everything and it’s so frustrating and it almost feels cheap? One of the main conflicts in this book is that Spensa’s been carrying the weight of her father’s reputation for her whole life, and people hold it against her. In other books, I could imagine people continuing to just never give her a chance, or things never, ever changing for her, or that keeping her on the outside forever. In this book, her classmates do get to know her as a person, do give her the space to grow. Rather than let that one issue be the thing that keeps cropping up and dragging the whole book, there’s satisfactory growth through it. More information is introduced and that issue changes, but additional conflict and plot points are added as well. There’s no death grip on the “girl everyone hates proves herself to be cool and SHOWS THEM ALL” story arc.
Also, the sassy sentient ship M-Bot, I liked that, too.
This might actually be my favorite book of the month. It was I think the second book I read this month, and I rated it 4☆. It took me a while to get going with it, because I found the pacing pretty choppy. I didn’t really like the way information was delivered to the reader — for me, it felt like it was always running right up to the line of info dumping, but stopping short, in a really awkward manner. It left me kind of unsure how I felt about this book overall for a while. As the month went on, though, I remembered less and less about what I thought about the writing and the pacing of the book itself, and more and more what I liked about the main characters, Robin and Edwin.
ROBIN AND EDWIN. Y’ALL. You’ve got to read this book. You will love these two. You will love them. Edwin is a prissy, uptight, keeps to himself, deeply wounded, bullied by his own family for not being magic enough, snooty rich dude. He can do magic, but compared to everyone else in his family — and most other people who can do magic, in fact — he can’t do very much at all. And Robin is just a regular dude, a bro, a former jock, a friendly absolute himbo who has never even heard of magic actually existing, but has, through a roundabout consequence of his own shit family circumstances, found himself in a government job as the liaison responsible for reporting incidents of regular people coming across magical happenings. And Edwin is his magical contact.
The magical plot and hijinks and curse and uncurse business in the book is frankly… fine. It’s fine, it’s interesting, there’s some intrigue, some murder, some high stakes, some near-deathing, some magical problem solving, and that’s all well and good. What you want to read, though, is the relationship between these two. They’re standoffish and tentative, then respectful and careful with each other. They’re both fully sketched in characters — the actions they take, the things they say, the ways they think about themselves and about each other — these are all fully informed by the histories the author has established for them. That’s not to say they behave perfectly toward each other, that there are no missteps and everything is smooth, but that everything is rooted firmly in who the character is known to be. Nothing is convenient for the plot or the moment, nothing is easily handled because it needs to be for the story. Their interactions feel real and adult and human. Even when there’s conflict, it’s not cheap, it’s not a misunderstanding that could be solved in five minutes if they just spoke to each other. It’s two adults who care about each other, but who have hurt each other. And when they come back together, it’s not because everything is swept under the rug, but because they’re adults who are behaving like adults. It’s lovely and you will love them.
At this point, nearly a month on from having read it, I barely remember my complaints. The only drawback I can think of at the moment is that there’s going to be another book in the series, but it focuses on a different character. I may read it grudgingly. I’m sure it will be very nice, but I want THESE two again.
Other favorites: If I Had Your Face – Frances Cha, Starsight (Skyward #2) – Brandon Sanderson
This is by no means a bad book. In fact, if you liked The House in the Cerulean Sea, this is probably right up your alley. I found it absolutely pleasant and gave it 3½☆. Still, thinking about it in the whole picture of what I read in January, it falls among my least favorites. Again, I don’t think it’s bad, and I wouldn’t even call it disappointing. It’s more of a sort of “I’ve done this already” feeling. If I’d read this before The House in the Cerulean Sea, I might have said the same thing about that one, though I’m not entirely certain — I do think The House in the Cerulean Sea works a bit better for me. Regardless, this book definitely suffers for me having read The House in the Cerulean Sea last year and it being probably my favorite thing I read last year.
For me, this felt pretty much exactly the same — and that’s not a bad thing, as far as books go. If you’ve got a book type, it’s good to be able to depend on finding that type of thing again. What you’ve got here is a guy who is not great, but not terrible, who ends up in a situation with a sort of mystical, woo guy, and a cast of quirky side characters, and he spends time with the mystical guy and the quirky side characters, and over the time they spend together, the guy who was initially not great, but not all that terrible, either, learns lessons about life — or in this case, death, I guess. I’m not really one for retellings.
This possibly could have been a four star book for me — like I said, it was absolutely pleasant, not a bad way to spend the time, totally enjoyable. However, the final resolution made me feel like something had been snatched away from me. I really did not like it. The whole book felt cheapened to me, and I spent a good four to seven minutes mightily annoyed.
WELL LET ME TELL YOU, I DID NOT LIKE THIS. Okay. Okay. You might like this one because it is a bit compelling in that there is a sort of magical Hunger Games going on — seven families have all each sent one child to fight to the death for the chance to have a 20-year term controlling the only existing supply of High Magick. Additionally, the title does seem accurate — every one of these children is some kind of a villain. If you’re into… hm, I’m not even going to say morally grey characters here, I’m just going to call them villains. If reading about characters with nefarious motivations sounds interesting to you, that aspect of the book is compelling. Sure, they’ve all got their own reasons and backstories and pressures and motives for doing what they’re doing, but they’re all ultimately villains in this story, so there’s that.
My problem with this book is that there are no stakes, no tension. When there’s a tournament that’s existed for hundreds of years, there are rules. These rules are established, everyone knows them, they’re explained to the reader. What kind of magic can be used, what boundaries exist, how the tournament functions with landmarks and territory, etc. On top of that, there’s a whole functioning magic system in this world. How it works, who can do what, how much a person can do, what spells and curses are, how they’re made, where they come from. This is all established as part of the world building. Then you enter into this tournament to the death — where people are going to die — and all of this starts getting thrown out the window. People are doing things that shouldn’t be possible. Alliances that make no sense to the established game are happening. Convenient explanations for things that circumvent the rules are popping up in the moment. How can you build tension when at any moment, what’s been established can be swept right out from under you? How do the deaths have any weight when the next person just conveniently escapes via some method that shouldn’t be possible? All the weight just kept getting sucked out of this book for me.
Add in a cartoonish bonus villain reveal at the end, and this whole series is an absolute nope for me.
I am going to copy in the summary I posted yesterday before I tell you what I rated this book.
The Queen of Hell – who got that name by making a deal with the devil to trade the souls of 7 musical prodigies in exchange for her own – is looking for one last soul, and she finds one in a transgender runaway violin prodigy named Katrina. Katrina likes to play video game theme covers on YouTube. There is a galactic war, and a stargate in a giant donut. There are aliens, of course, and a sapphic love story, and a child who is actually an AI, who helps with the YouTube channel. There are cursed instruments, and a demon. A boy is a in a cube. Ducks, alive and otherwise.
This is the book I did not publicly rate, and privately rated a two. That is, if you are interested in my taste in books – if you are my book nemesis like Elizabeth, and generally like things I dislike, so knowing what doesn’t work for me can point you toward things that might work for you, or if we generally have similar tastes and knowing that something was not my style serves as a good warning that your time is better spent elsewhere, then now you know — for my personal tastes, this book was a two star. However, I would not publicly rate it a two star anywhere it would count against the author, because that did not seem right.
I knew maybe a third of the way into this book that it was not for me. You know how that goes, right? You can recognize that it’s absolutely not a bad book, and it is very, very clearly FOR someone. Just not you. For me, this book was a little too… spacey. I don’t mean of or about space, but in the sense that it wasn’t enough grounded in reality for me, a little too loose, a little too much going on. Not enough real. A little too much descriptive language specifically about being a musician, a little too much metaphor about cursed instruments, cursed souls, cursed journeys, cursed artists. I don’t have the imagination or creativity to connect with this book, and the thing is, I knew that part way in. I knew it a third of the way into the book, that it was NOT for me, that I would NOT like it very much, but I still wanted to know what would happen, and I still read it. And to me, to continue reading past the point where I was CERTAIN I wasn’t going to like it — not something where I thought the story might pick up, it might turn around in the end, I might start to like the characters, get used to the writing style, not that sort of thing — that is totally on me. To affect the public rating of a book that I read fully aware that it wasn’t for me doesn’t seem right.
I don’t know if I am making the distinction clear — there are times when I will read a book and absolutely rate it 2 stars on Goodreads if that’s what it is, but this time, no. I suppose it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t make sense to you. I read this, it wasn’t for me, but it’s definitely for someone. Who is not me. Who might be you.
Books I didn’t finish this month:
Here and Now and Then – Mike Chen
I just couldn’t get into it. It was too science. It was too… man. Mannish. Written by man, about a man. Man. Also?
The Thousandth Floor – Katherine McGee
I took this out of the library several times over the last, oh gosh, two years? I might have actually had it out when the libraries shut down at the beginning of the pandemic and I had the same books for months. I never got around to it, and by the time I finally did, I couldn’t remember why I wanted it. I finally picked it up out of my stack this time on a day I couldn’t pick what to read and decided to grab the highest and lowest rated books out of my library pile. I think at one point this sort of dystopian, closed-society, tower sort of thing definitely appealed to me, but not in this way right now — I got bored really quickly with the lives of rich teenagers.
Apples Never Fall – Liane Moriarty
Genuinely don’t know what was up with this. Liane Moriarty is pretty much always solid for me. Maybe because I had it on audio? Then again, I am pretty sure that’s how I usually consume Liana Moriarty books. Whereas the other two above are definitely permanently DNF’s, I wouldn’t write this one off forever. I can see myself picking this one back up around summer vacation, for sure.
Defy the Night – Brigid Kemmerer
So in the spreadsheet where I keep track of books I want to read and where I got the idea, it says this book was recommended by a YouTuber I watch, so I snagged it from the library for that reason. I got about a 100 pages in and was feeling neutral about it — on the fence, not really moved one way or the other with regard to keeping on or putting it down, and I was taking a brief break and watching a different YouTuber. That YouTuber said it was boring and nothing happens, nothing happens at all. So I put it down. Shrug.
I’m incredibly easy to influence. You could take lessons from me.
All right, those are my favorite and least favorite books from January. Did I leave out any you wanted to hear about? Did you read any of these? Are you going to read any of these? Are you following me on Instagram so I can be updated minute by minute if you do, because I’ll remind you it’s a crime if you take a recommendation from me and then don’t give me, specifically and directly, your every single thought as it happens. Look it up.
January Wrap Up Posts:
That’s all. Thank you for your attention and goodbye.
Hello, here I am.
Right now, I am tracking my reading in two different ways, but four different places. Two websites, two spreadsheets. Well, two websites, and one spreadsheet that is just one sheet, and one that has multiple sheets. Is this a lot? Yes. Is it excessive? Let’s stop the you-I-made-up-in-my-head right there — we’re not doing that. I may go into all these details at another time, it’s a lot for a post that is already going to be a lot, but even if I do, you’re not going to be allowed to say “that’s excessive.”
I don’t know yet which of these methods I’ll end up keeping up with — it’s only January and I don’t know how much of this information will end up ultimately serving the admittedly still pretty nebulous goals I’ve laid out for myself, and shockingly, even among all this information, and even with the changes I’ve already made to the mega-spreadsheet, I can see I’m not collecting some information I might like to have, so this is all definitely a work in progress. I do have goals for this year, though, and here is the first: I am going to give you this post, which is these stats and every blessed thing I read in January, and in a couple of days I will tell you my favorites and least favorites among those, and a couple of days after that, I will tell you my February reading plans, and ideally this pattern will repeat in the first week of March with February’s books, and you will see how those stats are being used.
Okay, it’s time for the numbers now. If you’re not interested in that crap and just want to know what I read, scroll down. I won’t know the difference.
January Reading Stats
✷ I read a total of 12 books out of my goal of 52 for the year, putting me ahead by 8 books. This might seem like I set my goal low, but I want to remind you that one, I’m an incredibly unreliable person; two, everyone likes to feel like a winner; and three, there’s no law that says goals have to be hard or unachievable, stop making this hateful world more difficult on yourself, damn.
✷ I also DNF’d 4 books this month, for various reasons. They won’t be listed with everything I read, but I will include them in the post of favorites and least favorites, even though “being a least favorite” is not necessarily always the reason for DNF’ing. I just didn’t want to make a whole separate post about them. Three wrap up posts seemed reasonable and doable. See above about hateful world, etc.
✷ However, seeing as how DNF’d books are books I did spend time and effort on, and I am human and do remain who I am, and do like credit for effort expended, as we all do, I’m also tracking pages read this year, and the pages of books I didn’t finish do count in those totals. I encourage you to try this if you find yourself pushing through books you don’t like because you don’t allow yourself to count unfinished books toward your reading goals, but also get stressed about the wasted time not counting for anything if you put a book down, thus find yourself pushing through things you don’t really like so you can count it toward your total. And if you’re about to say something about how dumb that line of thinking is, and how people should just put down things they don’t like and not worry about their reading goals, and how reading is supposed to be fun and not about numbers, I’m going to need you to take that healthy attitude to a juice bar or something, me and the people who get me don’t need that kind of negativity. Anyway, I read 4,738 pages, putting me ahead of my 20,000 page goal by 3039 pages.
✷ I read for 25 out of 30 days in January (okay, I know there’s 31 days in January, but I’m wrote this post in advance with the intention to fill in the correct numbers later, and I thought I might post this on February 1, but now I’m thinking I might post it on January 31, which is right now, and I haven’t read anything yet today, and listen, no one is going to audit me, all right?). On four of those days, I also listened to an audiobook, and on one of those days, I only listened to an audiobook. I was cleaning the jets in my bathtub. It was terrible.
✷Something I’m still sorting out: if I average the daily pages read and count the non-reading days as 0 pages, I averaged 153 pages read per day this month. If I eliminate the non-reading days, on days I read, I read 183 pages per day. I don’t know which of these I’d like to count as my average pages per day.
✷ I read about 2 hours per day. The 0 days don’t affect this, it rounds to the same. On days I read, the least was half an hour and 35 pages, and the most was 5.5 hours and 575 pages.
✷ Audiobooks are another interesting dilemma. I listened for 6.5 hours this month. However, since I up the speeds, I actually consumed 20 hours of audiobook content. So. I dunno. I can’t help it that I’ve got fast ears, man.
✷ A full 100% of my reading came from the library this month. All of it. Every single book I read and DNF’d. This isn’t a goal, this is just how it happened. It’s also not something I plan to continue in the future (see February reading plans), but it will definitely stay heavily balanced that way. Circulation numbers are everyone’s job.
✷ I checked out 35 books in January. You know the receipt the library gives you showing you how much you saved by using the library? Well, if they’re going to give me those numbers, why not track them? By using the library, I saved $683.00 in January, if I had purchased all of those books. Of course, that’s not a realistic savings — I don’t think there are many of us who would buy books as freely as we take them from the library. But that’s all the more reason to use the library, isn’t it?
✷ The way I track whether or not I’ve “read” a library book, considering there’s no actual risk/money wasted, is whether or not I made the time to pick it up and read/investigate it enough to be sure whether or not it was for me, whether that be reading, DNF’ing, or realizing it’s not what I thought now that I have it and I’m never going to read it. Setting a cut-off a couple of days before the end of the month to be reasonable, of the books I checked out before then, I read or otherwise dealt with 65% of the library books I checked out, and the rest went back unopened/uninvestigated. Hm. I suppose that should be closer to 100%.
Of the 16 books I read or DNF’d:
✷ 9 Adult, 7 YA – this is surprising, because I thought I was moving away from YA
✷ 9 part of a series, 7 stand alone – of these, there are 4 series I would not pick up again, 3 I’d maybe get around to, and only 1 where I immediately went for the next books
✷ 2 debut authors, 4 I’d read before, and 10 entirely new to me
✷ 6 Sci-Fi books, 5 Contemporary books, 3 Fantasy books, 2 Mystery books – there are further sub-genres, but not enough data to be interesting yet
✷ 7 books rated 4 stars and above, and not counting DNFs, only one below 3 stars
I think, at this point, with only a month of data, that is the most that I can reasonably call interesting. There are other things/tracked stats that might become more interesting over time.
Note on author stats: I’m not going to be including any author stats. Any information authors choose to publicly share is available to you on their platforms. Tracking those stats is a tricky thing, with authors having to justify their own identities, etc, and other people have discussed the nuances better than I can. That said, it’s not something I’m interested in displaying as a public scorecard, but more of a background awareness I have running to make sure I keep tabs on who is telling the stories I’m reading, and taking my guidance from appropriate voices.
All right. Those are the stats I’ve decided to list for January. Next month, there might be less. Or more. Maybe it will make more sense to you after the February reading plans post. Maybe it won’t. I don’t know, man. Is this interesting? I’m interested, and that’s my name at the top of the page.
✷ If I Had Your Face – Frances Cha – Multi-POV story of five South Korean women in their early twenties, mainly focusing on their experiences with and feelings about South Korean beauty standards and cultural expectations of women and femininity, societal hierarchies, relationships and friendships. Distinctly Korean, but universally relatable.
✷ A Marvellous Light – Freya Marske – A historical magical fantasy where one generally good-natured jocky bro gets slotted into a government job as a sudden replacement, only to find out on his first day that he’s now a liaison between his world and magical world, something he didn’t know existed until his contact, a real snooty magic dude, shows up being all “who the shit are you and also, my pen writes by itself.” He’s like nah heck this I’m gonna quit but whoops he gets magic on him and needs help from the snooty dude who thinks he’s pretty much a total cabbage. Then they start making eyes at each other.
✷ The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet – Becky Chambers – An extremely diverse crew of human, alien, and AI characters in a janky ship is tasked with punching a hole through the universe to help establish efficient travel routes for a previously un-allied, potentially extremely volatile alien race. Generally episodic and feel-good in nature, the book covers the crew’s travels across space, dangers they run into, weirdos they meet, and the weirdos they are.
✷ Pines – Blake Crouch – A Secret Service agent is travelling with another Secret Service agent to go find out what happened to some OTHER Secret Service agents when suddenly he wakes up on the side of a river all beat up with no idea what happened. He wanders into a town, which is a strange town. Everyone in the town is weird, except one lady, who tells him yeah, it’s weird, right? But then everyone denies that lady exists. And then everyone ups their weirdness by a million. And everyone is weird and creepy except for the guy, who has to figure out what kind of weirdness is going on in this weird town. You know, that kind of thing?
✷ Skyward – Brandon Sanderson – The first book in the Skyward series. There’s a teen girl who wants to go to pilot school and spends all her time studying for the test, because her dad was a pilot, fighting against the Krell, who basically just harass her planet non-stop, and don’t let humans out of their planet, and that’s their whole life. Hiding underground, for the most part, and getting harassed by these space guys, and no one knows why. But then when she goes to take the test, they’re like, nah girl. Your dad ran away in battle, he was a coward, so basically you are too, so you can’t. But then she gets to anyway, for reasons, but they don’t make it easy on her, but she yells about doom and the blood of her enemies and is hardheaded as hell. And also there’s a sentient AI space ship who also eventually starts yelling about doom.
✷ Light From Uncommon Stars – Ryka Aoki – The Queen of Hell – who got that name by making a deal with the devil to trade the souls of 7 musical prodigies in exchange for her own – is looking for one last soul, and she finds one in a transgender runaway violin prodigy named Katrina. Katrina likes to play video game theme covers on YouTube. There is a galactic war, and a stargate in a giant donut. There are aliens, of course, and a sapphic love story, and a child who is actually an AI, who helps with the YouTube channel. There are cursed instruments, and a demon. A boy is a in a cube. Ducks, alive and otherwise.
✷ All of Us Villains – Amanda Foody & Christina Lynn Herman – There are two kinds of magic in the world, but one was thought long gone, but guess what, turns out seven rich families were hoarding it all for themselves. There is a contract, hundreds of years old, and by its terms, every 20 years, those seven families compete in a tournament for control of the entire supply of High Magick. This year, due to an anonymous tell all book, the entire world is aware of what’s going on, and attention is on the tournament for the first time ever. Oh, and the tournament is a Hunger Games-style thing where every family sends one kid to fight to the death. The title is accurate.
✷ Forbidden – Tabitha Suzuma – Teen brother and sister Lochlan and Maya are basically entirely responsible for their three younger siblings, due to an absent father and might-as-well-be-absent mother. It’s difficult to summarize this book without saying exactly what it is, which is a love story. I dunno, man. Shrug, etc.
✷ The Cost of Knowing – Brittney Morris – Alex can see the future of every single object he touches. Every one. Every single thing. This sounds cool, like a super power, but in reality it plays out like an absolutely visceral depiction of gripping anxiety and an impossible way to live. One day, through the course of just touching things, he gets a vision of the future, of himself at his younger brother’s funeral. From there, he has to figure out what happens, when it will happen, if the future can be changed, and what if it can’t? More than that, this is a story about two young black boys living in today’s world exactly as you know it is.
✷ The Thursday Murder Club – Richard Osman – Busybody old people with time on their hands gently but absolutely inexorably force their way into a murder investigation because, come on. They’ve got the time, they’ve got the skills – somehow – and the police can’t stop them. Really. They can’t be stopped. They can’t. Try it. Go on. Try it.
✷ Under the Whispering Door – TJ Klune – A guy, Wallace, who wasn’t so great in life but wasn’t that bad, either, finds himself dead and not pleased about it. Finding himself reaped and at an in-between place, he tells the man who is in charge of the in-between place, basically, “I refuse.” And the man at the in-between place, Hugo, is like, “that’s fine, I can wait.” And Hugo, and his ghost grandpa, and his reaper friend, and his ghost dog, and his runaway ghost gone bad, they all basically hang out and wait for dead Wallace to come to terms with his deadness, but then they start to run out of time.
✷ Starsight – Brandon Sanderson – NO. YOU HAVE TO READ SKYWARD FIRST.
(all titles are links)
Okay, well, that’s my January reading stats (useful or not) and everything I read in January (potentially useful — I haven’t told you what I think about them yet, so you can decide if you want to read them, unpolluted by my judgment). Here are the rest of the posts coming up shortly. They will be links once they exist:
January Wrap Up Posts:
If you prefer shorter, more frequent updates to these long wrap ups, you can follow me on Instagram here, where I update my stories with what I’m reading pretty constantly, as well as try to keep up with mini-reviews in a highlight on my profile, and larger reviews in my feed. I am absolute shit at taking pictures, and am deeply unapologetic about it, yet this visual medium is where I spend most of my time.
Also, no matter what you say, I’m not going to not post the stats, but if you are interested in a more in depth post about the four different ways I’m tracking and rating books, let me know, because that would be a bit of a big post. My feelings are not going to be hurt if you say no. My feelings are never hurt by “no, please, don’t put yourself out on my behalf.” While I am delighted to be a giant nerd for fun, I am also equally always pleased to not put myself out.
I had some struggles this month – a lot of big reading plans I was very excited about, a lot of big reading plans that didn’t get completed. I had a hard time with my vision this month, which I’m sure you can imagine, makes reading A LITTLE BIT DIFFICULT. I do have periods of time every day where the double vision is not bothering me, but it’s broken up in chunks some days, and that’s really affected the KIND of books I’ve been able to get into this month. Like do you read different books in different ways? If I’m reading something like just contemporary lit or a beach read kind of thing or even some light thrillers, I have no problem picking it up and putting it down as needed, reading in little bits here and there, like back when I had a very small kid and it took me a near literal year to get through A Discovery of Witches not because I didn’t like it, but because I could only read it bit by bit, because of the general life circumstances of someone living in a newborn-harassed way. No problems. Other stuff, though, I need to really SIT DOWN and GET INTO in a long unbroken chunk to get reading – fantasy, heavy-ish sci-fi, some thrillers and mysteries, etc. Really need to get a momentum going to get properly stuck into reading it.
So I had a lot of DNFs this month – more books than I actually finished, as it turns out. I thought it was going to add up to being a REAL SHIT reading month, but when I was looking over my ratings for the stuff I did finish – I really liked almost all of it. Like, truly enjoyed the stuff I did manage to get read. So I’m calling March a good one.
Here are some quick reviews of the things I managed and didn’t manage this month.
I have already said it, this bitch loves a Backman, and this is a Backman, and I did love it. It’s a novella and is a pretty quick read — I read most of it in one of my old lady crumple body epsom salt baths. It’s told from the perspective of a man who is mostly spending time with his grandson throughout the story. It’s a sort of inner world look from the eyes of someone who is declining from Alzheimer’s. It’s about him, his life, his late wife. His son, his grandson, and his time with them. It took a minute to hook into the way the story was being told, but it turned out to be a pretty brilliant way to explore that concept — someone continuing to live while aware of what’s slipping away. It’s a bit like Still Alice by Lisa Genova in that the narrator is someone with the disease, but told in a slightly fantastical, metaphorical way, rather than a clinical day to day decline witnessed through the character’s eyes. It’s sad, but it’s not, but it is — it’s tragic and upsetting but it’s also not a devastating reading experience. I’m not quite sure how to explain that — it’s a painful topic, it’s painful to witness, but the way it’s told makes it almost bearable. It is not my top favorite Backman, but it is a good one, and I think it’s worth a read.
I didn’t end up finishing this one. I actually didn’t end up getting very far in this one. I don’t think it fell victim to my vision issues, because I don’t feel any urge to return to this later. This one just isn’t for me. Thrillers/mysteries aren’t really my genre, so I guess I am a bit extra picky in that area, but this book was just doing several things I didn’t like pretty early on, and I couldn’t get into it, and knowing I was having trouble getting into it colored my attitude and made me start getting extra nitpicky and resentful about what I was reading. It’s got multiple POVs, which is generally fine by me, but pretty much all of them are a wildly overblown caricature of the type of person they’re meant to be. On top of that, almost every POV chapter ended with some sort of “and there’s a deep dark secret the character has/knows, but we can’t talk about that right now…” in a really leading sort of way that really grated on me. I got too annoyed with everyone and lost my give a fuck before I could get any momentum going, and if I rated DNFs, this would be a solid, unquestioned “not for me” one star. THAT SAID, many people I know who have generally excellent taste in books HAVE liked this book, so if a multiple POV murder mystery set on an island in a storm sounds like your jam, by all means give it a shot. Maybe from the library. Use the library.
I think I’ve already talked about this one – link to post here. I finished it and I liked it quite a bit, and I do think I will pick up the next book in the series. It’s about a school called the Scholomance, where magical children are kind of … ZOOPED up into it at a certain age. There are no teachers, there is no supervision, there are only the children, and the school is FILLED WITH FUCKING MONSTERS. Monsters that just KILL THE HECK out of the students. I’m not going to rehash everything I said about it, because I had a LOT to say about it — a couple of weeks on, I still feel basically the same way. The main character was grating and hard to sympathize with, I didn’t really understand her motivations until the book got rolling, and when it did get rolling and everything connected together and the reasoning for everything was explained and so tightly woven, I just ended up finishing this book really impressed. Just super impressed. I am absolutely 100% going to read the next book, as well as check out more Naomi Novik, and I am GEARING UP TO FANGIRL HARD.
This is a book of short stories, which are not usually my thing (as you will see further down in this list). They’re connected stories that proceed from childhood to adulthood throughout the book. The synopsis on Goodreads includes the following:
“In her brilliant, hilarious, and at times shocking debut, Mona Awad simultaneously skewers the body image-obsessed culture that tells women they have no value outside their physical appearance, and delivers a tender and moving depiction of a lovably difficult young woman whose life is hijacked by her struggle to conform. ”
I can’t really think of a better way to describe it than that. That’s exactly what it is. While it’s on the surface about the very specific experience about growing up fat, I don’t think the book’s impact is limited to people who have lived that experience. I do think it is particularly cutting for those people, but at the core of it, it’s about growing up in a world where your earliest social impressions and norms and ability to find value in yourself as a human is based on how you look, and what that does to a person on the inside — stuff that really feels normal is laid out completely bare. I think just about every woman can see some example of her own personal youth, or her own young adult behaviors, or her own motivations in these stories, in ways that don’t pull any punches. It’s harsh. It is a harsh book. I really liked it, and I really recommend it.
I didn’t finish this one. I barely started this one. This is not a DNF like The Guest List is a DNF — I don’t rule out ever picking this one up again. When this and Circe were getting big hype, I wasn’t interested. I’m not really into mythology stuff and okay, look, I hated the covers. I was not interested and then the covers made me even less interested. Is that shallow? I don’t think so. I decided I didn’t care what it was ABOUT before I decided I didn’t like what it looked like, you see. That’s the opposite way round. Anyway, people DO love these, though. And you know I love a bandwagon, and I don’t use that word with the negative connotations people seem to give it. You’ve got a whole wagon of people enjoying something! LET ME IN THE WAGON. WHERE WE GOING? DON’T CARE, I’M IN THE WAGON. And I’d also seen a TON of people say they initially didn’t pick it up because mythology type stuff really wasn’t their thing, either, but ended up loving it. I believe what people say, I am too old and too tired to figure out if you’re bullshitting me these days, so if that’s what people said, I believed them, and I STILL believe them, but oh man, I don’t know if I just wasn’t in the mood for this or if it’s really just not my thing but every time I picked it up, I did NOT want to be reading it. Maybe some other time.
Loved it. LOVED it.
From Goodreads: “Charlie, a highly-strung, openly gay over-thinker, and Nick, a cheerful, soft-hearted rugby player, meet at a British all-boys grammar school. Friendship blooms quickly, but could there be something more…?”
OF COURSE THERE’S SOMETHING MORE AND I LOVED IT. The problem with graphic novels, though, is that they go by SO FAST. And the problem with my local library system is that they keep buying ONLY THE FIRST BOOK IN A SERIES. I was done with this in about 30 minutes and loved every second of it, but now I have to WAIT. Graphic novels are a CRIME. This is a CRIME SCENE. Gonna read the rest of the series, though. You should, too. YA appropriate.
I talked about this one in the same post where I talked about A Deadly Education and The Guest List. I had high hopes for it fitting some of my favorite stuff from this other post, but in the end, the fact that it read on the really young side of young adult just did me in. I almost certainly won’t pick this back up, but not in an “I hate this” kind of way. My own kid is gradually aging up toward YA reads and I’d definitely pick it up for her to see if she was into it. There’s nothing wrong with YA that reads really YA. I am an AA. Uh, an adult-adult. Some YA appeals, some doesn’t, and that’s fine, it’s not for me. Fun if I can get into it, but if I can’t, no hard feelings, no harsh reviews. Some YA books have adult appeal, and for me, this one just didn’t, and there’s nothing WRONG with that, it’s not SUPPOSED to, that would just be a BONUS. Am I covering my own butt enough here? It just wasn’t for me but it’s probably for a lot a lot of other people
Sometimes a book is weird and it works for you, and sometimes it’s weird and it doesn’t work for you? The only way to know if a book described as “weird” is going to work for you is to give it a try, so I did, and while I don’t dislike weird books on the whole, this particular weird book was not a weird book for me. However, if you are the type of person who likes weird books, I can tell you that this book is weird, and like all other weird books, you will have to actually try it to figure out if it is your particular kind of weird or not. I don’t think I’ll be picking it back up, but never say never for this one, I guess. I am, at the moment, unmotivated to do so, though.
It is by Mona Awad, same author as 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl mentioned above, so I do have pretty solid faith in her as a writer. This one just wasn’t for me, but if weird is something you like to try, I give you an encouraging nudge for this one.
Okay, so this is a book of short stories that didn’t work for me. Not on the whole, anyway. I didn’t finished it, but I DID finish SOME of the stories. A couple of them really hit me just right, like perfection, absolutely, love it, snaps, etc. And then the ones that weren’t those ones hit me VERY wrong. The wrong kind of weird for me. Not my kind of weird. I’m hesitant on if I rate this one or what or how things work with a book of short stories, because I really liked the ones I did read, and I would give them 4 to 5 stars for sure. But I don’t rate (on Goodreads) books I don’t finish, because that seems unfair to authors who may pull it out in the end without me knowing because I never made it to the end, and I didn’t finish this, because several of the stories were just NOT for me.
This is what I will say — the story that hit me the hardest is called The Husband Stitch, and it’s available to read, legally and for free, online. I think you should try that out. I think you should try it out today, especially if you’re a femme leaning person around my general age. I think you should try it out and see what you think, and if you really like it, pick up the book and give that a try, too. And if it’s not really your thing, I still don’t think you’re going to be sorry you read it. I think you will want to push it into other people’s hands just like I do. I think it’ll punch you in the guts. Link here.
Okay, I’m not going to say much about this one. Louise Penny books are going down big in my internet circle right now, so you know I wanted to be in on that. I listened to it on audio, and it just couldn’t grab me, but at the same time, I knew it COULD. I liked the tone of the writing a lot more than I thought it would — for some reason, I assumed it would be kind of pokey and slow, but it wasn’t at all. I liked the way the characters were sketched out, I liked that the dialogue was realistic and lightly funny, I liked the pacing that was set up. I just couldn’t sink myself into it right NOW. I’ve already re-added myself to the hold list to give this one another shot, so no rating or thoughts for now, but I am looking forward to reading this one again, whenever that may be, as it has been whooshed back into my personal storage (aka the library) and I am generously allowing others to read it before I take another turn, because that’s the kind of person I am.
So this was probably the clearest victim of my physical reading frustrations this month. With world building at play, I really need to be able to sit for a good amount of unbroken time to give a book a fair shot, and I just could not get ahold of a solid enough block with functioning eyeballs this month to make this work for me. On top of that, the lead is female, and I got it in my head that at this moment in time — not all moments, not every moment, but the specific moment at which I was attempting to read this book — I was really in the mood for a strong, kickass female lead. Pretty early on, though, I was getting hints of “not like other girls” vibes and also the set up for a potential love triangle with her and two dudes and you’ve got to understand — I’m not shooting that down as a concept or thing I hate forever and ever til I die. It just wasn’t what I wanted right then. And I DO want to read this book. Attempting to read this book when I know it’s veering toward something I’m NOT IN THE MOOD FOR is not really giving it a fair shot. It had to be put down to preserve it for future me, who has functioning eyeballs and is feeling less moody and picky about what she is and is not going to be willing to entertain at any given moment.
This is really the only book I’m coming out of this month with genuinely negative feelings about. I didn’t finish it, so I hesitate to tell you not to pick it up and give it a shot, but absolutely 100% I did not like this, it is not for me.
The concept is that a woman has the power to see the future through tea leaves and can’t control when her predictions come shooting out, because she was offered to learn how to train this gift with an aunt when she was a child but rejected it for whatever reason, and now shit has gone kind of fucky and said aunt is taking her away to Paris to finally get a grip on her shit or whatever. I’m sure you can tell I am already not describing this in the most generous of terms.
The concept of this book is fine, though a quick skim through the parts I didn’t read leads me to suspect it does not really live up to the concept as promised. It’s fine in theory, though. The thing that got me — the thing I could not stand — is that in addition to this being a book about a woman who can predict the future, in addition to this being a book about a woman who is learning to control a magical ability, in addition to this being a book about running off to Paris, in addition to this being a book about a tea shop, IN ADDITION TO THIS BEING A BOOK WITH A ROMANCE — on top of all of that, somehow the concept of being a foodie is crammed in there. And I’m saying foodie in the opposite way I say bandwagon — the disdainful way. I don’t object to the concept of people who truly enjoy food and call themselves foodies. I just felt subjected to it by this book. Endless descriptions of high end, fancy food and the descriptions had such a fan fiction feel — if you read a lot of fic, you’ll know — like when an author realizes they need to add more descriptive language to their work and just starts DESCRIBING FOODS and the sensation of biting foods, and unironically using the word “divine” as if that’s a thing people just say a couple of times per meal.
And if she’s a foodie — you know the type of foodie, the type who says, “you don’t understand – MY family REALLY loves food.” I DO UNDERSTAND. EVERYONE LOVES FOOD. If she’s such a foodie, why is her aunt explaining what tarte tatin is to her? Has she not watched a Bake Off?
And then — amidst all this fancy food description — the narrator took a smug, snooty, “above this” potshot at diners. Oh no. Oh hell no. I am way way WAY THE FUCK too Northeastern American for you to speak disdainfully of diners. Up this book’s. I’m not even couching this one in diplomatic “not for me, but maybe for you” terms. DINERS? HOW VERY DARE YOU. Right the hell up this book’s bum with a divine cup of diner gravy.
I finished this one! It’s a pretty quick read. I think it’s billed as a thriller/mystery, but I’d definitely call it more of a suspense novel. It’s about a woman at a sort of crossroads period in her life who becomes obsessed with a true crime podcast. When the true crime podcast host seems to disappear, Sera takes it upon herself to investigate. Through the course of just… things getting away from her and rolling downhill, she ends up almost stepping into the missing woman’s life as she tries to figure out where she’s gone and what happened.
The concept of this book? A+. I bet it sounds like something that’s right up your alley. It certainly sounded directed straight at me. I didn’t really like it, though — definitely an “it was okay” two stars. It just didn’t carry through the promise I felt like the concept had. I didn’t feel thrilled or suspended. I was alternately annoyed and bored, but also kept reading because, all right, let’s see what happened here. I don’t think it carried off or earned it’s ending — I didn’t feel satisfied or paid off in any way, and I felt like it was hasty and kind of hamfisted in the way it wrapped up. It was fine, it was okay, but ultimately forgettable and I will never think about this book again, other than to wish someone else had gotten a book deal with this same concept and done it better.
I really, really enjoyed this book. It has the same sort of character-driven story that I really enjoy in Fredrik Backman books, though Eleanor is a different sort of character written in a different sort of way, of course. There’s a bit of a bumpy entry, as Eleanor is extremely unpleasant as the book begins, but as it goes on, you get to see some real development as she interacts with other really, really great characters throughout the book. You get a vibe pretty early that not everything is as straightforward as it seems, a sort of unreliable narrator thing going on a bit, and at times the doling out of information does feel like it drags a little. Eleanor’s development and changes ring true, though, and feel supported and valid and realistic as the book moves on. I just genuinely liked Eleanor and Ray and Glenn and Ray’s mom. This was pleasant, it was exactly my style, and I liked it quite a bit.
This is a tough one to put into words. Not what the book is about, that’s easy enough. A woman whose life has not gone exactly the way she thought it would when she was a younger receives a request from an old school friend — one she has a complicated history with — to do a job for her. When she travels to see this friend for the first time since high school, she’s told that the job is essentially being a nanny for her two stepchildren, as her husband is currently being vetted for a soon to be open political position and everything is just very complicated right then. The thing is, these particular children — when they get upset, they catch on fire.
No, the part that is tough to put into words is what I liked about it. I don’t mean that in the “I struggle to find something I liked about this book,” because I liked it quite a lot. I’m just not sure what specifically it was that I enjoyed so much. I liked seeing someone who had no experience with children or desire to have experience with children jump in with both feet and get stuff done the best way she could figure out, like the rest of us do. I liked how complex but also kind of simple her relationships with the kids, her childhood friend, and her own mother were — they were not great but realistic and workable in an “it is what it is” kind of way. I liked the side characters, the way they were written and the roles they played. I liked how it all shook out in the end. I like that it’s about just doing the best you can when it comes to life and kids. I just liked it. You should try it.
That’s it! That’s what I read and didn’t read this month. It looks kind of shitty, with that long streak of 8 books I didn’t finish, but if you look at the 7 I did finish, there’s one 2 star, one 3 star, and FIVE 4 star books. That’s not bad at all. I was pretty careful — since I had such limited reading ability last month — to not force myself to books I wasn’t feeling, whether totally and permanently, or just not at the moment, so I didn’t end up sunk too deep in anything I was hating and resenting. Almost everything I did finish was pretty enjoyable, so even though my not finished outweigh my finished books this month, I’m going to call it all in all a pretty good one.
Coming up soon and/or later this month on no particular schedule because there is no law and I answer to no man or internet: reading plans for April that will surely quickly go all to hell, bigger reviews of The Soulmate Equation by Christina Lauren (Goodreads) and Fragile Remedy by Maria Ingrande Mora (Goodreads), an update on my ambitious reading projects, and something something goal for the year something something not fully fleshed out idea.
Thank you for your attention. Good bye.