January Reading Roundup

January always feels like the month that never ends. It’s long and dark and cold. Particularly cold in the last couple weeks. But here we are, finally, in February. Today it’s warm and birds are singing and I’m daring to hope that the groundhog might be right and we might actually get an early spring. And don’t you even think of telling me the groundhog is never right and there’s still a lot of winter ahead of us. Punxsutawney Phil is right 39% of the time. I looked it up. And I’m going to cling to my hope of an early spring until February dumps another bucket of snow on us, and even then, I’ll hope.

 

Speaking of warm weather, I rang in the New Year in Florida. Literally there was a bell. We had a great vacation before returning to the cold northeast. Harvard law has a mandatory J-term, and this year I took a three-week course on patent law. It was really interesting but also really intense. Then spring semester started, and I once again came down with a really nasty cold that felt like the flu. I started off fall semester sick too, so I’m noticing an unfortunate pattern here. There is some good news though. First, I’m on the mend now. Second, this is my last semester of law school, so the pattern can’t build up a head of steam and continue much longer. Knock on wood.

 

I was also writing a lot in January. A group of friends and I decided to do our own National Novel Writing Month in January—since November is the worst month if you’re a student. I set out to write one chapter a week (five chapters total) on my middle grade space adventure project. I wrote four chapters and a bit of the fifth. I blame my cold/flu for not quite finishing, but this is a ton more progress than I’ve made in a while. I’ve been having a lot of fun with this project. At this point, I’m pretty much pantsing it, which means it’s just as much of an adventure for me as it is for my characters. I’ll talk more about this later.

 

So now that January is over, it’s time to recap the books I read this month. Because so much was going on, I only read ten books, and it was a bit of a mixed bag—some were really great; some not so much. Let’s dive right in.

 

I started the year with An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. This was our first book club selection of the year. Celestial and Roy have been happily married for a year (at least Roy says they’re happy—I have my doubts), when Roy is arrested and convicted of rape. He didn’t do it, but he’s off to prison, leaving Celestial behind to fall in love with her childhood friend. So this is not the sort of book I would have picked up on my own, and I wasn’t a fan. I recognize that it was a good book. It did cool things with form, and it tackled hard issues like race in the deep south and false imprisonment and family. I just didn’t like it.

 

After that, I started the next Rick Riordan Greek myths series, The Trials of Apollo. I read the first two books, The Hidden Oracle and The Dark Prophecy. I admit I was dubious about continuing on with these series after the ending of The Blood of Olympus, which was on the whole disappointing. But the premise of this series was irresistable: Zeus punishes Apollo for his role in the events of the last series by casting him down to Earth to live as a mortal. And it is priceless. The quest plots are starting to feel very similar, because I’ve now read ten of these books, but I just love Apollo and his new friend Meg. They carry this series.

 

Next, I read What to Say Next by Julie Buxbalm. After Kit’s father dies in a car accident, she forms an unlikely friendship with David—who is at the very bottom of the high school popularity hierarchy and is somewhere on the autism spectrum. Together, Kit and David set out to figure out exactly how and why Kit’s father died in that car accident. I was so torn about this book. On the one hand, I loved the characters. David in particular was depicted really well. I found the bullying—and the lack of school action about the bullying—to be very realistic. And it gave me lots of feelings. At the same time, the overall message of the book was that in order for David to have any friends—including Kit—he had to be less autistic. He couldn’t be himself. This is really problematic and left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

 

Next, I read the second Expanse book, Caliban’s War by James S. A. Corey. In this book, the crew gets dragged back into the war between Earth and Mars when they go to Ganymede to search for a missing child. There’s also a high-up UN official working for a Martian marine who are awesome. While I wasn’t one hundred percent thrilled with the first book, this book really sold me on the series. The worldbuilding continued to be really awesome, and I felt like the character develop finally started to catch up with it. I’m really looking forward to what comes next in this series.

 

After Caliban’s War, I continued my reread of the Harry Potter series with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Harry Potter in the Goblet of Fire. I’m working on a more detailed post about my Harry Potter reread, so I won’t go into details now, but these two are my favorites of the series and they definitely brightened up my January.

 

This month it was my turn to pick a book for book club, and I chose Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake. When Mara’s best friend Hannah accuses Mara’s twin brother Owen of rape, Mara is forced to choose between her family and her friend and face trauma in her own past. I chose this book because another writer on twitter said this was the best YA book of 2018. Now I haven’t read all the YA books of 2018, but I’m pretty sure this wasn’t the best. I really liked a lot about this book. The high level concept was really gripping, and the book gave me all kinds of feelings. But it felt like the author was trying to cram as many hot-button issues as she could into the book, so there were a lot of things that felt like they were glossed over. And I also found the absentee parenting unrealistic given the characters’ socioeconomic class and other descriptions in the book. As a friend in book club who was a teacher before law school said, there are definitely situations where this kind of parenting would be realistic, but based on everything we know about this family, these parents should have noticed what’s going on with their kids, and that’s not only unrealistic but also harmful to kids who really are in that situation. So as much as I appreciated what this book was trying to do, and as powerful as this book was in places, I have to agree that this book ultimately doesn’t work.

 

Then I read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. This is an epistulary novel about the Nazi occupation of the island of Guernsey in the British channel, which I knew nothing about. It was really cool, until two thirds of the way through when it turned into a Jane Austin-esque romance and kind of fell apart for me. Like what just happened there?

 

Finally, I finished off January with The Postmistress by Sarah Blake. This was another World War II book about three women—a young wife on Cape Cod waiting for her husband who’s gone off to work as a doctor in London during the blitz, the postmistress of the same town on Cape Cod, and a reporter in London who travels through Europe to try to find out what is happening to the Jewish refugees. The back cover of this book describes it as three remarkable women coming together around the fact that the postmistress doesn’t deliver a letter, and okay, if you can call any of these characters remarkable and you can say they actually come together. The postmistress not delivering the letter, by the time it actually happens, is so inconsequential. And honestly the only one of these charactersI care about is the reporter in the London blitz who goes off to Europe and rides the trains recording the stories of the Jewish refugees. There were also some factual things that just drove me nuts. First, the author took liberties with the dates to allow the reporter to carry a portable recording device (I forget what’s it’s called) on the trains through Europe a year before the device was invented. It’s a small thing, and it’s a choice the writer is free to make, but it annoys me because it’s unrealistic and just allows the writer to bend the world to suit her story. Second, the postmistress makes a big deal of correcting the reporter, when they meet, that in the U.S. her title is postmaster, but the reporter and the book continue to call her the postmistress, which I just found kind of disrespectful to the character. On the whole, this wasn’t a bad book by any means. It just wasn’t a very good book, and I wouldn’t recommend it.

 

And that’s it for January. Have you read any of these books? Do you agree with my opinions?

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