Even though January lasts eons, I look forward to reading in January each year. In December, I peruse the best-of-the-year book lists that permeate book lovers’ blogs and throw their favorites on my January TBR. I end up reading a few fantastic books at the beginning of every year.
Wilder Girls by Rory Power –YAL horror–published 2019–two stars: Under quarantine because of a slow-moving, fatal disease called the “Tox,” an all-girls school battles with the fallout. Even though the premise is fresh, Power failed to create a single likable character. Because of plot holes, the characters starved for no plausible reason. However, the cover is badass. I still can’t stop looking at it.
Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language by Gretchen McCulloch–nonfiction–published 2019–five stars: This. Book. Is. Fascinating. As a self-proclaimed word nerd who loves learning about etymology, I couldn’t put this book down. Who wouldn’t want to examine the history of how the internet has influenced the English language’s evolution? Who wouldn’t want to learn about text tone of voice, the history of emojis, and the Unicode Consortium? Plus, McCulloch’s comedic word-nerd voice radiates throughout. Take away? Stop judging informal writing as if it were formal. Texting and social media writing will never follow standard English.
The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw–YAL fantasy–published 2018–two stars: Three sisters, killed for their supposed witchery 200 hundred years ago, come back every summer to haunt the seaside town responsible for their demises. They drown unsuspecting teenage boys to take their revenge. Disclaimer–the adult supervision in this town is nonexistent. The parents allow the teenagers to throw a massive beach party on the night of the witches’ reappearance even though there are drowning deaths every summer? Come. On. A girl goes missing during this time, and the teenagers hold her hostage. The adults neglect to search for the missing girl. Ugh. Now, I admit, I missed a plot twist, but I’ll blame that on the muscle relaxer I took the night I read the book.
The Chain by Adrian McKinty–crime/thriller–published 2019–three stars: A divorcée and breast cancer survivor named Rachel is finally getting her life back on track when two people kidnap her daughter Kylie from the school bus stop. This is no normal kidnapping. Rachel gets a phone call demanding ransom and that she must kidnap and hold another child hostage to get her own daughter released. The people who kidnapped her daughter received the same phone call and instructions, and this process goes back years like a chain letter. Forced into a terrible position, Rachel and her family face death if they break “the chain.” The plot is inconceivable. Have everyday Joes become mastermind kidnappers at the drop of hat and not get caught nor go to the police? No chance. I found parts of the prose contrived. For example towards the novel’s end, McKinty explains the metaphor of the chain. Mind blown emoji. Don’t explain the metaphor McKinty! You know better. I guess I’m just in desperate need of a good thriller because this genre consistently fails in impressing me.
Night (The Night Trilogy, #1) by Elie Wiesel–memoir–published 1956–five stars: Considering my aversion to World War II historical fiction and nonfiction, it shouldn’t be surprising that I’ve eschewed reading this memoir for years. However, Wiesel’s austere prose gutted me.
Normal People by Sally Rooney–contemporary fiction–published 2019–four stars: Connell and Marianne, high schoolers who come from different backgrounds, fall for each other, hiding their relationship from their friends and their families. Their toxic relationship follows them to college. I disliked Connell and Marianne but liked this novel.
The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow–YAL fantasy–published 2019–four stars: January, raised by a rich armchair archeologist, pines for a grand adventure. One day she discovers a door, walks through it, and finds herself in another world. Her guardian then destroys the door. Once she discovers there are more doors leading to millions of other worlds, her hero’s journey begins. The magical, wistful, and carefully chosen words shine on the page, creating a glorious fairy tale.
Where the Forest Meets the Stars by Glendy Vanderah–contemporary fiction–published 2019–five stars: Trying to resume her ornithology research after a health setback, Joanna rents a cabin in Southern Illinois to conduct her studies and to help her heal. One night, a little girl appears, and Joanna enlists her reclusive neighbor to help solve the mystery of the scared, intelligent girl. I. Could. Not. Put. This. Book. Down. If you enjoyed Where the Crawdads Sing, you’ll love this book; it’s better than Crawdads. It has more humor and more heart while being less dense.
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern–fantasy–published 2019–five stars: I held off on picking up this book for two reasons. 1. It’s lengthy. 2. I reread Morgenstern’s Night Circus last year, and to my horror, couldn’t explain why I thought it phenomenal upon first reading. As a result, I thought this book would waste my time. A few book reviewers who I respect critically panned this book while others loud capped their approval. Morgenstern’s sophomore novel is more concrete, vivid, and literary than her first. Much like the above-reviewed The Ten Thousand Doors of January, the plot focuses on doors leading to other worlds and the doors’ widespread destruction.
Get a Life, Chloe Brown (The Brown Sisters, #1) by Talia Hibbert–romance–published 2019–three stars: The titular protagonist faces chronic pain, moving from her family home to prove her independence. As soon as she unpacks her flat, she gets the hots for her building’s super hot super. Against her better judgment, she asks him to help her cross off items from her “get a life” list. Chloe has fibromyalgia, the same disease I suffer from. Brown does a decent job describing its symptoms and the day-to-day difficulties those symptoms create, but that does not outweigh this romance novel’s mediocrity.
Do I Make Myself Clear? Why Writing Well Matters by Harold Evans–nonfiction–published 2017–three stars: Believe me, Harold Evans, a well-respected British editor, would judge my writing. While I found a few of his insights valuable–particularly the importance of writing a clear sentence, he’s a self-described language purist and abhors English language evolution. Parts of this book are simply old-school grammar textbook lists of things like common word usage mistakes. He also t-charts poorly written passages of a wide variety of genres with his commentary of its weaknesses. These parts made me feel like I was trying to wade through terribly constructed student work, resulting in my head wanting to explode. Read a different book if you want writing tips.
The Cactus by Sarah Haywood–contemporary fiction–published 2018–three stars: Even though Reese Witherspoon is a national treasure, her book club picks are literary trash. I”ve yet to read one I’ve rated higher than a three. The Cactus is a lesser Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine. The plot twist exposed itself within the books’ first quarter.
Ava and Pip (Ava and Pip #1) by Carol Weston–middle grade–published 2014–four stars: Ava, a writing loving elementary schooler, tries to help her painfully shy older sister Pip find her voice. Little Thing and I enjoyed this read.
What did you read in January, friends?
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on these books if you’ve read them!