Reader, 2021 is off to a really good start when it comes to reading. I am ahead on my reading challenge, I’m right on track with one of my major reading goals, and I read a grand total of 17 books this month. Of course, my immediate TBR is already getting out of hand, but hey! You can’t have everything. So let’s dive right into the wrap-up!
1.The Other Widow by Susan H. Crawford
I started off 2021 strong with this thriller! It follows three women: one, a widow whose husband has just died in a tragic car crash, one, the man’s mistress who was there when the car crashed, and one, the insurance investigator trying to make it all make sense. All three of these characters were interesting and well-written, and trying to weave their various threads together to find out who was lying kept the momentum of the story moving. Maggie, the insurance investigator, was perhaps my favourite. She was the right mixture of clever and strong, with her backstory as a veteran and then a cop really adding a lot of depth to her sections. The mystery itself was maybe a little underbaked, but the characters were so fascinating and the final twist so surprising it really made up for the occasionally lagging plot. All in all, a good start to the year.
Final Grade: A-
2. Chaotic Good by Whitney Gardner
I immediately stepped it up a notch though with what is currently my best book of the year. This book follows Cameron, a high school senior desperate to become a fashion designer, who is working on building up her portfolio through her cosplay designs. Unfortunately, to get inspiration for those designs, she needs to go to the local comic book store, which is staffed by a major dudebro who is unwilling to accept a girl may be interested in comics. So, Cameron decides the logical next step is to disguise herself as a boy and do her shopping in peace. Which works fine until suddenly she’s roped into a game of Dungeons and Dragons, along with the dudebro, a very handsome dragon master, an overeager clerk, and her reluctant twin brother for good measure. And, as you’ve probably guessed, shenanigans ensue. Now you all know I am a big fan of plots where shenanigans ensue, so I was sold on this book from the beginning. It was mainly a lighthearted romantic comedy with lots of nerdy references and a Shakespearian plot, but it also had a nuanced and depressingly accurate take on the more toxic and sexist sides of nerd culture, from gatekeeping, online harassment, and doxing. It was all there, and it was all powerful. And if you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you know that anything that combines romcoms, nerd culture, Shakespeare, and feminist commentary is pretty much tailer-made for me, so yeah. I adored this book and I highly recommend it.
Final Grade: A+
3. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
Continuing my journey into the world of Jane Austen, I spent pretty much all of my holidays reading Mansfield Park. I have heard this is one of Austen’s less-popular novels, but I quite enjoyed it. It’s just as funny as her first two stories, with slightly more variety to the romances than she previously offered. It’s a bit darker and more grown-up than the other two, and I think that’s only to its benefit. I also think that Jane Austen excels at creating well-developed unique female characters, and Fanny Price is no exception to that rule. She’s a bit like Elinor Dashwood (Sense and Sensibility) crossed with Jane Bennet (Pride and Prejudice), but she’s her own unique character, whose shyness and lack of self-worth should not fool you into thinking she’s weak. She’s a girl who knows her own mind and knows what’s right, and quietly goes about doing exactly that right under everyone’s noses. Despite a slightly rushed ending, this is a solid addition to Austen’s canon and one I am delighted I read.
4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
You all know I have read the Harry Potter series over and over, so here is my original wrap-up:
“This is by far my favourite of the Harry Potter books. This is the moment when J.K. Rowling’s writing really hits that exceptional level she maintains for the rest of the series, and it also marks a turning point into the darker, more mature later books with our first death of an innocent at Hogwarts. I think the plot is the best in this book, with a nice balance between hijinks at Hogwarts and the Triwizard Tournament, I think the mystery is developed best in this book over the others, I think the wizarding community has gained that lived-in quality that makes these books so compelling, and there’s also the Yule Ball, which is one of my favourite Ron/Hermione couple moments. So, basically everything to love and nothing to quibble with. The best of the best” (Check out the full wrap-up here).
Final Grade: A+
5. The Journal of Curious Letters by James Dashner
I really don’t have much to say about this book. This is a fun, middle-grade romp that you’ll probably enjoy more if you are closer to middle-grade age. I am not, so while I enjoyed it, it neither stuck in my mind or convinced me to read further in the series. I mainly read it to clear it off my shelf, because I have had it forever. Basically, fun, fluffy, forgetable sums it up nicely.
Final Grade: B
6. Gallows View by Peter Robinson
As I mentioned in my New Year’s Resolution tag, I plan on reading all of the Peter Robinson DCI Banks books in 2021. This is the first book in that series, and honestly, I can tell. That’s not to say it’s bad or anything like that, it’s just that the nuance of the mystery and the characters is not quite at the level they eventually get to. Regardless, this is an interesting and snappy novel that, even if it ends up a tad predictable, it’s in a way that proves you satisfyingly right as opposed to boring you. Banks is an immediately likeable character, and it made me eager to keep rereading, and that’s really what you want from a series opener, isn’t it?
Final Grade: A-
7. A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews
And this book has the rather dubious honour of being the first textbook of my final semester of undergrad (that’s a scary and slightly confusingly worded sentence)! Fortunately, it was an excellent book. I talk a lot on this blog about how much I love Miriam Toews, so we probably don’t need to go into all that again, plus I have to write an essay about this book, so I want to conserve my strength. In brief, Miriam Toews has a gift with prose that is astonishingly honest and profound. She shakes up your worldview, she takes you into the nitty gritty of being human, and she makes you laugh/cry at the same time while she’s doing it. This particular book is more bittersweet than it is tragic or comedic, but it remains a masterful book by a masterful author. I could say more, but you’re going to be hearing a lot about Miriam Toews over the next four months, so, I will desist for the moment.
Final Grade: A+
8. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Another book for class, but surprisingly, another highly enjoyable one. After my less than enthusiastic review of Great Expectations, you may be surprised to learn that I adored A Christmas Carol. I don’t know if it was the fact that this was a novella, or it’s just such a sweet story, or a better lecture from the prof (yeah, I said it), but I heartily enjoyed this book. It was cute and Christmassy, and just beautiful, with just enough sly wit to keep it from becoming sacchrine. There is a reason this book became a classic, and unlike with Great Expectations, I heartily agree with that classification.
Final Grade: A+
9. The Betrayal by Laura Elliot
This was a thriller where I really liked the writing style, but didn’t care so much for the plot, which is not really how that usually works out. The story follows Jake and Nadine, a couple who married as teenagers when Nadine got pregnant. Now that their kids are grown up, they are considering separating and revisiting the dreams they put on hold, at which point, Nadine’s old high school bestie turned archrival re-enters the picture and begins an affair with Jake. This seemed like an intriquing setup, and I was really looking foward to seeing how this author would twist these tropes and surprise me. But then she didn’t. She kept not twisting them. Everything happened pretty much exactly as you would expect with no really big surprises after like the 35% mark, and that was really disappointing, as there were some kind of outdated tropes in here that I really would have liked to see subverted. I would read more from this author, as she really did do a good job with the atmosphere and the suspense, but this particular mystery was not one I would ever reread.
Final Grade: B-
10. The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason
This is another book with an intriquing premise that really faltered when it came to execution. It follows Mina Holmes, the niece of Sherlock and daughter of Mycroft, and Evaline Stoker, the sister of Bram, who are summoned by Irene Adler to solve the mysterious disappearances of a string of debutantes. Throw in three mysterious gentlemen, and you’ve got a recipe for some steampunk, feminism-infused fun, right? Wrong! Our two leads spent their entire time catfighting and making stupid decisions while simultaneously praising themselves for their own brilliance, brilliance they never managed to display to the audience. By the end, nothing was resolved, and I had ceased to be enchanted by an admittedly cool premise. It was fun, I guess, but not worth spending money on the sequel.
Final Grade: C+
11. City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare
I have also read this book numerous times, so here is the original wrap-up:
“And I ended the month as I began it, with the final book in The Mortal Instruments series. As Cassie proved with City of Glass, she is really good at sticking the landing. She just threw everything at this book, every character, every plot thread, every fight scene…anything that could be crammed in there was featured yet somehow, it all worked. It was epic, it was fast (which at 700+ pages is no small feat), and it wove together threads from the other two series in a way that didn’t feel forced. Given my feelings on City of Bones, I’m astonished by how far she’s come in her writing. Bravo” (Check out the original wrap-up here).
12. A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews
I don’t know what else there is to say about this one. It’s all right up there, you can scroll back up and see my thoughts. I read this book twice, so I counted it twice, because rereading counts as two books. My Dad said so.
Final Grade: A+
13. Swing Low: A Life by Miriam Toews
Look see, more Miriam Toews. Like I said, you’ll be hearing about her a lot. This text is unique, as it is a work of creative non-fiction from the perspective of Toews’ father, who has committed suicide, which leads to an emotional read, to say the least. The story has a softer style than some of Toews’ other works, as Mel has a less blunt way of looking at the world than Miriam does, and its ultimately a deeply tragic love story. And I mean, all types of love not just romantic. It’s beautiful and its sad, and I cried. Boy, did I cry a lot.
Final Grade: A+
14. Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare
Ah, more Cassandra Clare, so here are some more old wrap-ups:
Now that I have reread all the Sarah J Maas books, and engaged in my yearly Harry Potter reread, it is time to turn to the author I was reading when I first started this blog. That’s right, I’m ending my year with an epic Cassandra Clareathon, as preparation for the release of Chain of Gold in March. This time, I am reading in chronological order, which means I started off with Clockwork Angel, which is by and the large the best introductory book Cassie’s written. Tessa is an excellent heroine, intelligent and curious, which means she finds things out and participates in action much faster than Clary does in City of Bones. She’s easy to root for, and there’s a sense of humour in these books, that isn’t quite as developed in The Mortal Instruments. All of the secondary characters are well-developed and instrumental to the plot, and the plot itself has some great action sequences, though the final twist is not quite as shocking as it could be. Oh, and also Will Herondale is in this book, and if you’re new here, I LOVE WILL HERONDALE” (Check out the original wrap-up here).
Final Grade: A+
15. The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory
Philippa Gregory is my favourite historical fiction writer by a long shot, so I was really excited to dive into another one of her Plantagenet and the Tudors novels. Of the three I’ve read, I think this one is probably my least favourite, with both The Other Queen and The Other Boleyn Girl ranking higher (especially The Other Boleyn Girl. I love The Other Boleyn Girl.) This is probably because Mary, Queen of Scots and Anne Boleyn are two of my favourite historical figures, and I’d never heard of Margaret Beaufort before picking this book up, and what I learned, I did not like. Gregory creates a compelling portrait of a deeply unpleasant and self-righteous woman, with a disturbing lack of self-knowledge or moral compass, who despite, or maybe because of, her odiousness succeeds. It takes guts to make your hero someone who would easily be the villain in another narrative, and I applaud Gregory for doing so, and doing so so well. I may not have liked the character, but I sure did love the book.
Final Grade: A
16. A Dedicated Man by Peter Robinson
Continuing on with my DCI Banks reread, here is a mystery I hadn’t actually read before. Much like Gallows View, this was a short and snappy mystery that breezed by, with likeable (and sometimes unlikeable) characters to keep things interesting. Unlike Gallows View, though, this one had a twist at the end I did not see coming, and which I loved. Already, the level of mystery is picking up, and I can’t wait to get to book three to see what new twists are in store.
Final Grade: A
17. Death Comes to the Rectory by Catherine Llloyd
And I ended my month with the annual installment in the Kurland St. Mary mystery series, which is always a highlight of my winter. I’m pretty sure the seventh book in this series was the 17th book I read in January 2020, so how’s that for some symmetry? I’m not sure what to say about this 8th book in the series that I haven’t said already. These are excellent cozy mysteries with predictable character interactions and structure but unpredictable murderers and mysteries. I love them, and I hope they keep going for as long as possible, because I will read them all.
Final Grade: A+
And there you have it, those are all the books I read in January. Like I said at the beginning of this post, I already have quite a hefty TBR. I plan to read The Song of the Lioness quartet by Tamora Pierce this winter, starting with a reread of Alanna: The First Adventure. I have a whole stack of standalones I want to read as well, which includes The Cousins by Karen M McManus, The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemison, Lore by Alexandra Bracken, Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn, Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, and This Is Not the Jess Show by Anna Carey. I will also be continuing my DCI Banks read, my Cassandra Clare reread, my Miriam Toews read, and of course, A Court of Silver Flames by Sarah J Maas will be released in a very short thirteen days, which will necessitate putting my entire life on hold until it’s finished. I’m very excited.
That’s all I’ve got for you today, you guys should let me know in the comments what you read in January, stay safe, wear a mask, and I’ll see you on Saturday.
Until the next time.