Friday, February 5, 2021

Wrap Up: January 2021


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Reviews Of Books I Read In January



My reading year started out amazing! My first book of 2021 was also my first 5-star book of 2021. That book was Dry by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman. They’re a father/son writing team. Dry is a dystopia about what happens when California runs out of water. Reading it was stressful! Probably because I live in a drought-prone place that starts on fire every summer and fall. I can relate to the water restrictions and the constant smell of smoke in the air. This is one of the most realistic dystopias I’ve ever read. I love the pacing. It reads quickly because there’s a lot of action, but you still get to know and love the characters. I felt bad for them every time they hit a dead end in their search for water. (Which was often. These kids just can’t catch a break.) I love that the characters are forced to make hard decisions. They make mistakes. They learn they’re not as badass as they first thought. They’re not heroes. I’m struggling to come up with something to complain about. I need a complaint! Um . . . I guess the bit about the wildfire was predictable. I knew the kids would be rescued, and I knew how they’d be rescued. That didn’t impact my enjoyment of the book at all. If you like dystopias, you need to read this one. It’s so good!


Unfortunately, I didn’t have the same luck with my second book of 2021. I didn’t like The Inexplicable Logic Of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. This book made me very aware that I’m no longer the target audience for young adult stories. It’s a slow, character-driven novel about a sad, angry, spoiled teen boy and his sad, angry, less-spoiled friends. I’m not entirely sure why they’re friends because the girl is mean to the boys and constantly pressures them do things they don’t want to do. I guess that’s realistic for teenagers. The book is basically 500 pages of teens wallowing in their own misery. I think I would have loved it when I was younger because I was also a sad, angry, spoiled teenager. As an adult, the book reads like overwrought tragedy porn. It’s just nonstop misery. Don’t these kids have something to do? They sit around all day and text each other sad, philosophical stuff. There’s a sexual assault that I don’t think is handled well by the author. It happens and then is barely mentioned again. Why is it in the book if the sex assault plotline goes nowhere? There’s more than enough angst without it! I found this book frustrating, but I didn’t hate it. It’s well-written. I like the discussions about cultural identity. The main character is a white kid who was adopted by a Mexican father. He doesn’t feel white or Mexican. I thought those bits of the story were interesting, but the rest got on my nerves. I’m just not the target audience for this novel. I’m old and don’t have the energy for teen angst.


After that bookish low point, I found another excellent novel. Stella By Starlight by Sharon M. Draper reminds me of the slow, rural, character-driven stories I devoured as a young teenager. There isn’t much of a plot, but the vivid setting and strong characters were fascinating enough to keep me reading. It’s about the day-to-day life of a kid named Stella who is growing up in the south in the 1930s. The drama starts when Stella and her brother sneak out of the house at night and accidentally stumble across a KKK rally. It’s such a good book! There’s tension, and humor, and history, and a whole town of loveable characters. If you like middlegrade books and don’t mind a meandering slice-of-life plot, you need to read this novel.


After Stella By Starlight, I wanted more middlegrade, so I picked up The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm. This book is very different from Stella. It’s a science fiction story about an elderly scientist who discovers a way to reverse aging. Of course he tests his experiment on himself and ends up looking like a thirteen-year-old. Then he moves in with his daughter and eleven-year-old granddaughter. The book has a cartoonish quality. There’s a lot of humor and characters with over-the-top personalities. For an adult, it’s the kind of book you read quickly, laugh at, and then forget. I enjoyed it, but I don’t think it left a lasting impression on me. Kids would find it entertaining. It’s an easy read that doesn’t require a lot of thought. It’s just fun. I probably would have adored it as a kid.



Since I can’t read middlegrade books forever, I switched back to the adult stuff. The Wolves Of Winter by Tyrell Johnson is a dystopia set in Yukon Territory. I flew through the beginning because it hooked me right away. It starts with a mysterious stranger showing up at a settlement deep in the wilderness. Then the book becomes more science-fiction-ish. One of the characters is captured by a potentially evil government organization. That’s where it lost me a little. I feel like I’ve read a lot of dystopias about potentially evil government organizations. The book got a bit predictable and tropey. Luckily, that was my only issue. The rest is pretty freakin’ awesome. I love the morally gray characters and all their secrets. I love the quick pacing and the remote setting that could kill the characters at any moment. Now, where’s the sequel? This book needs a sequel!


Then I read All The Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater. I have mixed feelings about this one. It’s about a family of saints who can perform bizarre “miracles” that are more like curses. The writing style is clever, lively, and made me laugh. It reminds me of the tall tales I grew up hearing at Girl Scout camps. The story is set in Colorado, which is where I live. I love coming across familiar landscapes in books. The author does a fabulous job of describing the setting. Unfortunately, the “tall tale” writing style isn’t great for developing characters because they all feel cartoonish and shallow. Even at the end of the book, I had a hard time remembering who was who and how they were related. We’re told that characters are falling in love, but we don’t really get to see it happen. This is a fun, escapist story that took a lot of skill to write, but I don’t think it’ll stick in my brain. I wasn’t very invested in the characters.



Then I found my second 5-star book of 2021! It was Surviving The Extremes: What Happens To The Body And Mind At The Limits Of Human Endurance by Kenneth Kamler, M.D. If you’re interested in medical nonfiction, it’s completely captivating. And completely horrifying. It kept me awake for several nights because I couldn’t stop reading. The book is exactly what it says on the cover. The author is an “extreme medicine” doctor who works with astronauts, deep ocean divers, and mountain climbers. The book is about what happens to humans in environments that are not human friendly. The stories the author tells are simultaneously terrifying and amazing. That’s why I couldn’t stop reading them. I liked every chapter, but I think my favorite is the one about Everest. I’m never going to climb that mountain. Nope, nope, not worth the potentially horrific side effects.

Then I read Elevation by Stephen King. If you want to get into King but are afraid of gore, I recommend this novella. There’s no blood or guts or bizarre sex scenes. It’s about a man who looks overweight, but the scale says he’s losing weight at an un-survivable rate. He recruits his neighbors to help solve his weight-loss mystery. Nobody knows what will happen when his weight reaches 0. I finished this book in two nights because it’s suspenseful. What happens if someone has no weight?! The end is devastating, as you’d expect from a horror author. My only complaint is that I wanted more. It’s such a tiny book! I would have liked more exploration of the misfit neighbors theme. At its core, the story is about outcasts standing up for each other, so more character development would have been appreciated. Most of the characters are one-dimensional or small-town stereotypes. It’s an entertaining story, though! Its tone feels different from most of King’s other books.



Then it was back to the middlegrade. I finished Lily And Dunkin by Donna Gephart. This novel is adorable. Also, it made me crave doughnuts so bad! The kids basically live at a doughnut shop. I couldn’t handle the food descriptions. They made me hungry. Anyway, the book is about a transgender girl—Lily—who befriends a boy with bipolar disorder—Dunkin. The author does an amazing job of writing realistic middle school relationships. Dunkin is a popular kid; Lily is not. I loved watching Dunkin try to navigate his complicated social life. It definitely brought back bad middle school memoires of kids being tortured by their “friends” if they were seen talking to the “wrong” person. Lily and Dunkin both make selfish mistakes that are understandable and realistic for their ages. I like the main characters, but they both have giant, complicated life problems, and I think it’s too much for one book. Some of the smaller plotlines are dropped or overlooked. For example, Lily has a friend named Dare who is always pushing her to wear dresses and makeup. Lily doesn’t feel comfortable wearing dresses to school. I was hoping Lily would stand up to Dare and tell her to stop pushing, but nope. Lily just feels bad for not dressing how Dare wants her to dress. I guess that’s realistic for thirteen-year-old girls, but I was impatiently waiting for the moment when Lily would tell Dare to shut her trap and stop telling other people how to dress. That moment never came. There were a lot of moments that never came. I think there was just too much stuff happening to explore it all in depth. 

Then I read the graphic novel version of The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and Renée Nault. Of course I loved it! The Handmaid’s Tale is one of my favorite novels ever. The graphic novel adaptation is both colorful and profoundly creepy. I raced through it in a few hours. I know that graphic novel adaptations sometimes get hate from readers, but personally, I’m thrilled that artists are making classics accessible to people who can’t or won’t read the originals. I’m a fan of anything that encourages reading. The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopia about a society where most people are infertile. The last fertile women are called Handmaids and are owned by rich men who want children. As you’d expect, the plot is relentlessly bleak, but I love the writing style and the narrative structure. The graphic novel manages to capture those elements from the original. I was pleased! I do wonder if the end of the graphic novel would be confusing to someone who hasn’t read the original. I thought the ending was rushed and disjointed. There isn’t much room for explanation in a graphic novel because it’s mostly pictures. I still highly recommend the graphic adaptation. The illustrations are beautiful.



I finished the month with Things In Jars by Jess Kidd. It’s historical fantasy about a psychic detective and her ghost friend who are trying to solve the kidnapping of a (possible) mermaid. It’s frivolous and escapist. And gory. If you can’t handle body parts and fluids, you should probably stay away from this novel. It’s heavy on the descriptions of everything, including corpses. The missing-mermaid mystery is compelling. The characters are entertaining. There’s a mermaid child, a seven-foot-tall woman with excellent facial hair, and a ghost with a sense of humor. It’s definitely a strange cast of characters. I think there are a few too many characters, though. It took me a long time to remember who was who. And, I wanted to know more about the ghost. He has a huge personality and an amazing backstory. I wish he’d been a bigger part of the plot. It’s an unusual book. I enjoyed it enough that I will happily read the author’s other novels.







Best Books Of January


1. Dry by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman

2. Surviving The Extremes: What Happens To The Body And Mind At The Limits Of Human Endurance by Kenneth Kamler, M.D.

3. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and Renée Nault







Most-Viewed January Blog Posts


1. Top Ten Tuesday: Best 2021 Books For Teens

2. Top Ten Tuesday: Best New 2021 Book Releases

3. Top Ten Tuesday: Best 2021 Books For Tweens







January Bestsellers

Here are the books that people bought on Amazon or Book Depository last month after seeing them on Read All The Things! (Don’t worry, the link-tracking robots only tell me which books people are buying, not who is buying them. That would be creepy.)

1. The Stranger In The Woods: The Extraordinary Story Of The Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel

2. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

3. Born A Crime: Stories From A South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

January Life Snapshots


1. I regret our restaurant decisions. January started with my sister's birthday. We had takeout pizza and carrot cake and stayed in the house. We also realized that it’s now been over a year since I last ate inside a restaurant. We went to Chili’s for my sister’s birthday last year. If we’d known that would be our last restaurant, we would have picked a better place to eat. Chili’s is fine, but it’s not last-restaurant fine! Do you remember the last time you ate inside a restaurant? Did you make a good last-restaurant decision?

2. I just play Sims and watch hockey now. That's my life. My parents got me a new computer for Christmas because my old one is near death. Instead of buying myself something practical, like Microsoft Word, I promptly bought myself The Sims 4. I’ve been playing for an hour or two every night. I love my perfect Sim world! There are no pandemics or homeowners associations that make me take down the Christmas lights. (My Sim house is always highly decorated.) I usually play Sims while watching hockey games. If you’ve played Sims before, then you know that simulated humans . . . don’t make the best life choices for themselves. I’ve accidentally killed two Sims because I was distracted by hockey and not paying attention to them. Oops. On the positive side, my Sim house is now haunted by two vengeful ghosts. That’s fun.

3. The Pinterest meanies got me thinking . . . I spent January obsessing over my blog’s Pinterest account. That’s nothing new. At this point, I’m basically a bookish Pinterest board with legs. Even though Pinterest and I are the OTP, I get a projectile-vomiting feeling every time someone comments on the pins I create. The comments I get are almost always off-topic, spam, or mean. I rarely get comments that are both relevant and kind. Usually people are nasty to me because I read children’s books and books that criticize Dear Leader Trump. Whenever I get an excessively passionate comment, I laugh and delete it, but a few of them have got me thinking.

Here’s my question for fellow book bloggers: When you make a book list (like Top Ten Tuesday), do you limit the books on your list to one target audience? Like, do you only include adult books? Or only YA books? Or only picture books? I usually mix things up and put books on my lists for multiple target audiences. The passionate Pinterest commenters don’t like this. They want adult books only. I don’t know what to do! I want my lists to be useful to bookworms. When you read a book list, do you prefer to see books for only one audience?

4. Welp, that worked a little too well. I’m always looking for ways to support the book community. I started doing something on Twitter called #ShamelessSelfPromoSaturday. Bloggers reply to my tweet with a blog post they want to promote. I visit the post and retweet it. When I first started doing Shameless Self-Promo, it was only open to book bloggers and bookstagrammers. I didn’t get many responses, so I opened it up to authors. OMG, self-published authors are tenacious about promoting their stuff. I was suddenly buried in book advertisements. I want to retweet these ads and maybe get the authors some sales, but I don’t want to be annoying. No one wants their feed flooded with book ads! I only retweet on Saturdays, and I try to spread the tweets out over the entire day. If you follow me, have you noticed my excessive Saturday retweets? Can someone please tell me if I’m annoying? I’m trying not to be!

All The Things!

Number of miles I’ve run so far in 2021 = 60.3 miles (97 k)

Number of unread books on my to-be-read shelf = 56 books

I’m currently reading = Ada Blackjack: A True Story Of Survival In The Arctic by Jennifer Niven and Talking To Strangers: What We Should Know About The People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell






What did you do in January?


  1. My husband read The Wolves of Winter a couple weeks ago. I think he mostly enjoyed it but wasn't wild about the ending. Yeah, Chili's is not exactly last-restaurant caliber. Mine might be even less so. My last time eating inside somewhere was a lunch with my Mom and sisters in early March. A Chicken Salad Chick. I love their chicken salad, but it's not exactly last-meal kind of stuff. LOL And yay for hockey! It's keeping me happy.

  2. We've eaten in a couple restaurants since the pandemic started, California Pizza Kitchen and a new Mexican restaurant - better than Chili's but Chili's reminds me of my teenage years!

  3. This is probably why my blog doesn't have awe-inspiring viewer stats and never will, but when I put together a list, I include just...the books I personally want to include, that I think fit the theme. I write my blog primarily for my own enjoyment, only secondarily considering how it might be received by an audience. It didn't even occur to me until reading what you wrote that it might be a good idea to try to work within a niche! Personally, though, I like seeing lists with a mix of books. Variety is the spice of life (and reading!)

  4. I only know Niven's YA fiction. Interested in hearing how she does with non-fiction. When I do TTT I do tend to stay to one age group. I just like my lists that way, but I don't think there is anything wrong with mixing, especially if your blog features books across age groups. At the beginning of the pandemic, I remember having a conversation about the last time we ate out. It was a place we used to love, but they changed the menu and ruined it. However, we had gift cards to use. I have been out since then though, to much better places.

  5. You read some really good books in January! Dry and Surviving the Extremes sound like books I would like to read.

    I agree with Gabby and Rita. Read what you want to read and what appeals to you, not what you think others want. I find myself falling into this trap as well. The bloggers that have a niche seem to have a lot of followers. But, I am not happy reading the same type of book all the time. I am definitely a mood reader and if something doesn't sound good to me but I read it anyway, I am going into the book with an attitude that will probably come through in my reviews. I become less excited about reading.

    I really enjoyed your reviews! Keep reading what appeals to you.

  6. We haven't been book blogging very long but typically we organize into themes, but I frequently mix up YA and adult books. I haven't gotten any mean comments... yet

  7. I was gifted a copy of The Inexplicable Logic Of My Life when I was already having issues with books in that genre... I've been holding off, and now I think I definitely waited too long. Like you, I think books targeted for that age range just aren't for me anymore unless they have a horror twist. :)

    I also LOVE your Twitter #ShamelessSelfPromoSaturday posts!! <3 <3 Self promotion is SO difficult for me, so I love seeing stuff like this and getting to connect with others as well! :) Thank you for doing that!

  8. I read Dry last year and I loved it! Although, I did become a lit bit paranoid about always having a bottle of water around after reading it. The Wolves of Winter does seem quite interesting.

    I love playing The Sims 4! It has been sometimes since I played - I need the new Supernatural expansion.

    Happy readings!
    Tânia @MyLovelySecret

  9. Neal Shusterman is one of my favorite authors fro YA, but I haven't read Dry (will it be too much if I live in California?!). Looks like you had a fantastic January of reading.

  10. I definitely tend to mix in both YA and adult books in my lists, I guess mainly just because I read both and because most of my blog followers do as well.

  11. Two five star reads in the one month - sounds like your reading is off to a pretty good start for 2021, not to mention all the other great books you read too!

    Regarding your book list question, as a blogger, reader, bookworm, I like to see just a mixture of what that person reads. Not every list is going to be suitable for every person, y'know.

  12. The last restaurant we ate at was in February of last year for my dad's birthday and it was a local owned restaurant. They serve breakfast all day so I got I believe french toast. If I would have known that was my last restaurant meal for a while I would have chosen something I never make like their fried chicken which is delicious. Now I want that lol!
    Jen @ Star-Crossed Book Blog

  13. You ran 60 miles in a single month?! You are my hero! It sounds like you had a good reading month. We did go out to eat a few months ago to celebrate selling our house. I don't remember the last place we went prior to the pandemic. I am not on Pinterest but I would probably mix things up. Why are people mean?!

  14. Stephen King is not my cup of tea. He scares me! lol I hope you can stop by. I'm a little late to the party:


  15. You have convinced me to get a copy of Dry--I know I'm going to love it! Your second read definitely would bug me too. My last restaurant experience was for my wedding anniversary--we wanted fish dinners and chose poorly. We should have left after the server brought us to a table with crumbs on the seats and dirty silverware!!! And the fact that at dinner time the place was basically empty should have clued us in too. I hope your February is going well and warming up soon!