Wrap Up – January ’21

It’s 2021, y’all, but if you’ve came here expecting major new year, new me energy from me… I’m sorry to disappoint. New year, pretty goddamn similar me but like, with a Goodreads goal of 150 instead of 140. That’s pretty much all the character development you’re going to get from me.

As it becomes painfully obvious that Ms Rona isn’t leaving us alone anytime soon, and that I, and the rest of the human population, have literally become that meme with a house on fire, except I’m balancing a pile of books, my coursework, and my laptop in my hands. Truly, a worthy feat.

2021 is probably going to be an absolute garbage fire, much like 2020, but still, he who must not be names is finally out of office, a vaccine has been developed, and I read two favourites of the year in January (I literally can’t remember the last time that happened I even read one favourite so early on). So things aren’t all bad. I had a great reading month. Sure, there were a fair share of disappointments (aren’t there always?), but I did read some amazing books. I’m definitely chalking that up to my absolute determination to enjoy the first few books I read in January. I may not be superstitious, realistically, I fall pretty solidly on the sceptical side, but I do harbour the (probably untrue) belief that beginnings have some degree of impact on the year as a whole. So, of course, I read a few books I knew were going to mean something to me in the beginning of January.

Here are all the books I read this month!

(all covers and summaries courtesy of Goodreads)

1. My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

From one of our boldest, most celebrated new literary voices, a novel about a young woman’s efforts to duck the ills of the world by embarking on an extended hibernation with the help of one of the worst psychiatrists in the annals of literature and the battery of medicines she prescribes.

Our narrator should be happy, shouldn’t she? She’s young, thin, pretty, a recent Columbia graduate, works an easy job at a hip art gallery, lives in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan paid for, like the rest of her needs, by her inheritance. But there is a dark and vacuous hole in her heart, and it isn’t just the loss of her parents, or the way her Wall Street boyfriend treats her, or her sadomasochistic relationship with her best friend, Reva. It’s the year 2000 in a city aglitter with wealth and possibility; what could be so terribly wrong?

My Year of Rest and Relaxation is a powerful answer to that question. Through the story of a year spent under the influence of a truly mad combination of drugs designed to heal our heroine from her alienation from this world, Moshfegh shows us how reasonable, even necessary, alienation can be. Both tender and blackly funny, merciless and compassionate, it is a showcase for the gifts of one of our major writers working at the height of her powers.

4 out of 5 stars

There is very little that I can explain when it comes to this book. And, in what sets a tone for a lot of the books that i’ve read this month, I can’t widely recommend it. If you absolutely love it, I get it, if you absolutely hate it, it hurts my heart a little, but I still get it. In all honesty, it has the potential to be one of the most polarising books i’ve ever read (yes, more than Sarah J. Maas, no, not more than The Fountainhead). Still, I adored it, and it may just be one of my favourite literary fictions that I’ve read yet, and definitely one of the oddest ones. It was lofty and cerebral and something of a fever dream. It was a painfully realistic portrayal of depression and grief, without glamourising it in the slightest, which I really appreciated. I don’t know if this is a very popular opinion but it was Catcher of the Rye esque to me, especially in the ongoing, often hypocritical narration from its mercurial central character.

If strange literary fiction with no discernible plot and a deeply captivating character study sounds like your shit, I would recommend. It certainly has my stamp of approval and went down as one of my favourites of the year.

*****

2. Sleepwalking by Meg Wolitzer

Published when she was only twenty-three and written while she was a student at Brown, Sleepwalking marks the beginning of Meg Wolitzer’s acclaimed career.  Filled with her usual wisdom, compassion and insight, Sleepwalking tells the story of the three notorious “death girls,” so called on the Swarthmore campus because they dress in black and are each absorbed in the work and suicide of a different poet: Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and Wolitzer’s creation Lucy Asher, a gifted writer who drowned herself at twenty-four.  At night the death girls gather in a candlelit room to read their heroines’ work aloud.

But an affair with Julian, an upperclassman, pushes sensitive , struggling Claire Danziger—she of the Lucy Asher obsession-–to consider to what degree her “death girl” identity is really who she is.  As she grapples with her feelings for Julian, her own understanding of herself and her past begins to shift uncomfortably and even disturbingly. Finally, Claire takes drastic measures to confront the facts about herself that she has been avoiding for years.

5 out of 5 stars

This was a reread, and you know what, it was just as good as the first time I read it. It drew me into, what I can’t describe as anything other than, a trance like state. I felt exactly what Meg Wolitzer intended me to feel, when she intended me to feel it, and not a moment earlier. This damn book wouldn’t escape my thoughts for even a moment when I was taking a break from reading, so I finally caved and polished it off in a few hours. This was a haunting portrayal of grief and obsession (it would appear that I have a type). I loved what Wolitzer did, because I feel like i’ve never seen it before. She described perfectly, not only the tumultuous aftermath of a loss of a loved one, which we’ve obviously seen before, but also how grief impacts a child growing up, eats away at their sense of self, and leads them to rely on outward elements for their self identity.

Claire’s entire world is dependant on Lucy Ascher and her death landscape, because she can’t be dependant on herself or her family. Every major event in her life is directly influenced by her obsession, and her dead poet provides stability in her life. I don’t know what to say, but this. Read it.

*****

3. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Brace yourself for the most astonishing, challenging, upsetting, and profoundly moving book in many a season. An epic about love and friendship in the twenty-first century that goes into some of the darkest places fiction has ever traveled and yet somehow improbably breaks through into the light. Truly an amazement—and a great gift for its readers.

When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their centre of gravity.

Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realise, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.

4 out of 5 stars

TW: sexual abuse, child sexual abuse, verbal abuse, psychological manipulation and gaslighting, kidnapping/imprisonment, many modes of self-harm, ableism, drug use, and addiction.

Three books above 4 stars in a row? Who the heck am I?

Remember when I said that I have a type. It would appear that that type is depressing books. I promise, there’ll be a lot more variety as we go on, but I was feeling a bit melancholy early in January, new year and all that. So, back to depressing books. I know I said that the last two were depressing, but A Little Life is just a whole new level of am I drowning or is this just a pool of my tears. I mean, you’ll saw the trigger warnings. This is not a fun book.

Still, despite everything the characters go through, and they go through a lot, the few moments of pure joy feel all the more heartfelt and important because they’re so rare. And the relationships between the characters made my heart melt, and my heart’s pretty dang solid. Dark, shrivelled, and frozen if you will.

It’s hard to explain why exactly this wasn’t a favourite. It’s not even that it was absolutely heartbreaking or completely wrecked me emotionally, but that it felt like there were traumatic events that a certain character went though, just to wreck the reader. I have nothing against sad books, the last two books are evidence, but I do have a problem with terrible things happening just to elicit a strong emotional reaction from the audience, but thats entirely my opinion.

Let me know in the comments if you want a full review on A Little Life, because I have a lot of thoughts, more than what I can include in a single wrap up.

*****

4. Searching for Beauty: The Life of Millicent Rogers, the American Heiress Who Taught the World About Style by Cherie Burns

Nobody knew how to live the high life like Standard Oil heiress Millicent Rogers. Born to luxury, she lived in a whirl of European vacations, exquisite clothing, and dashing men.

In Searching for Beauty, Cherie Burns chronicles Rogers’s rebellious life from her days as a young girl afflicted with rheumatic fever to her final days as one of the legendary chatelaines of New Mexico. She eloped with a penniless baron; danced tangos in European nightclubs; romanced Roald Dahl, Secretary of Defense James Forrestal, and Hollywood icon Clark Gable; and triumphed in the world of fashion. She was muse to legendary American designer Charles James, appeared in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar and popularised Southwestern style by adopting turquoise jewellery, squaw skirts and short-waist jackets as her signature look.

With Searching for Beauty, Millicent Rogers enters the pantheon of great American women who, like Diana Vreeland and Babe Paley, put their distinctive stamp on American style. 

1 out of 5 stars

It would appear that my luck had run out, and things were going to well. This book was the exact opposite of what a memoir should be. I had quite a few problems with it. Okay, so first of all, the author (biographer?) just could not pick a damn direction! Most of it was a detailed, scene by scene account of Millicent Roger’s life, but every now and then, we got interesting insights into Millicent, who she was, her style, what made her such an icon and what set her apart from the rest of high society. Instead of feeling like an even balance, it felt like Burns was shoving unnecessary details down our throats, while skipping the good stuff. My favourite chapters were the ones focused solely on her style, and I wished we’d gotten a lot more of that! Millicent’s style was such a big part of why she became who she was, and it was honestly the only part of the book that really had me hooked. Disappointing.

5. King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

Face your demons… or feed them.

The boy king. The war hero. The prince with a demon curled inside his heart. Nikolai Lantsov has always had a gift for the impossible. The people of Ravka don’t know what he endured in their bloody civil war and he intends to keep it that way. Yet with each day a dark magic within him grows stronger, threatening to destroy all he has built.

Zoya Nazyalensky has devoted her life to honing her deadly talents and rebuilding the Grisha army. Despite their magical gifts, Zoya knows the Grisha cannot survive without Ravka as a place of sanctuary—and Ravka cannot survive a weakened king. Zoya will stop at nothing to help Nikolai secure the throne, but she also has new enemies to conquer in the battle to come.

Far north, Nina Zenik wages her own kind of war against the people who would see the Grisha wiped from the earth forever. Burdened by grief and a terrifying power, Nina must face the pain of her past if she has any hope of defeating the dangers that await her on the ice.

Ravka’s king. Ravka’s general. Ravka’s spy. They will journey past the boundaries of science and superstition, of magic and faith, and risk everything to save a broken nation. But some secrets aren’t meant to stay buried, and some wounds aren’t meant to heal.

4 out of 5 stars

I bounced back with King of Scars, the most recent of the books by Leigh Bardugo set in the Grishaverse. I told you guys there would be variety. I freaking loved this. It had some of my favourite characters, a budding romance and epic friendship between two of my favourite characters, subtle references to Six of Crows which gave me way to much joy, and was an all around good time.

In conclusion, I’m beyond excited for the next book because… that cliffhanger is killing me, but I’m also kind of dreading it because I am not ready for the Grishaverse to be over.

******

6. Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas

Chaol Westfall and Nesryn Faliq have arrived in the shining city of Antica to forge an alliance with the Khagan of the Southern Continent, whose vast armies are Erilea’s last hope. But they have also come to Antica for another purpose: to seek healing at the famed Torre Cesme for the wounds Chaol received in Rifthold.

After enduring unspeakable horrors as a child, Yrene Towers has no desire to help the young lord from Adarlan, let alone heal him. Yet she has sworn an oath to assist those in need—and will honor it. But Lord Westfall carries shadows from his own past, and Yrene soon comes to realize they could engulf them both.

In this sweeping parallel novel to the New York Times bestselling Empire of Storms, Chaol, Nesryn, and Yrene will have to draw on every scrap of their resilience if they wish to save their friends. But while they become entangled in the political webs of the khaganate, deep in the shadows of mighty mountains where warriors soar on legendary ruks, long-awaited answers slumber. Answers that might offer their world a chance at survival—or doom them all . . . 

2 out of 5 stars

If i’m being completely honest, this wasn’t horrible. Sure, there were repetitive cliches and formulaic characters (soft with hidden toughness, tough with a secret heart of gold, just plain old bad guys) and kind of annoying and predictable plot decisions, but at least the world building wasn’t completely boring and there were some characters that I enjoyed and even (as unbelievable as it is for a SJM book) cared about. I might be making it sound worse than it was. But then again, I had to put up with hundreds of pages of Chaos Westfall’s narration, so maybe I’m not.

Maybe I just liked this more because there was no Aelin, I didn’t have to read the phrase ‘my fae prince’ a dozen times, and the amount of threats of severe bodily harm and death were restricted from five a page to five a chapter. Upgrades people, upgrades.

*****

7. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a “haunting”; Theodora, the lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.

4 out of 5 stars

This was one of the aforementioned two favourites of the year. I don’t know how to describe this as anything but an odd little book. Possibly the most unexpectedly beloved books i’ve read this month. Even if you’re not a horror or paranormal fan, I would still recommend this. This as much an exploration of characters as it is a ghost story, if not more. I strongly, strongly recommend.

*****

8. Good Omens by Terry Prachett and Neil Gaiman

‘Armageddon only happens once, you know. They don’t let you go around again until you get it right.’

People have been predicting the end of the world almost from its very beginning, so it’s only natural to be sceptical when a new date is set for Judgement Day. But what if, for once, the predictions are right, and the apocalypse really is due to arrive next Saturday, just after tea?

You could spend the time left drowning your sorrows, giving away all your possessions in preparation for the rapture, or laughing it off as (hopefully) just another hoax. Or you could just try to do something about it.

It’s a predicament that Aziraphale, a somewhat fussy angel, and Crowley, a fast-living demon now finds themselves in. They’ve been living amongst Earth’s mortals since The Beginning and, truth be told, have grown rather fond of the lifestyle and, in all honesty, are not actually looking forward to the coming Apocalypse.

And then there’s the small matter that someone appears to have misplaced the Antichrist…

1 out of 5 stars

I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I just don’t get the hype. I can’t tell if this is just a bad book or just entirely not my thing, but I did not enjoy this one bit, and it’s supposed to make you laugh. From a purely enjoyment standpoint this was definitely a one. I didn’t enjoy it at all. I though the friendship between Aziraphale and Crowley was interesting and one of the best parts of the book. I also enjoyed the four horsemen and wish we could have seen more of them. Everyone else I found boring, unnecessary, or annoying.

I am looking forward to checking out the TV show, though, because I feel like I could enjoy it a lot more in that format. Fingers crossed I don’t hate it.

*****

9. Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline

An unexpected quest. Two worlds at stake. Are you ready?

Days after Oasis founder James Halliday’s contest, Wade Watts makes a discovery that changes everything. Hidden within Halliday’s vault, waiting for his heir to find, lies a technological advancement that will once again change the world and make the Oasis a thousand times more wondrous, and addictive, than even Wade dreamed possible. With it comes a new riddle and a new quest. A last Easter egg from Halliday, hinting at a mysterious prize. And an unexpected, impossibly powerful, and dangerous new rival awaits, one who will kill millions to get what he wants. Wade’s life and the future of the Oasis are again at stake, but this time the fate of humanity also hangs in the balance.

1 out of 5 stars

Another day, another disappointment. Unlike the last one, this surprised absolutely no one. I’m also pretty sure that this was objectively, just not great. The book started with an annoying amount of world building for anyone who actually remembers the last book. There was a deep dive into every single piece of technology (and I mean every single thing). It was like Ernest Cline just forgot how to write this world and its characters. Speaking of the characters. What the hell happened to Wade? For like three quarters of the book he was a completely different person. Back to the world for a second. There is a ridiculous amount of references in this book. And yes, I know thats like half the point of the book, but it can be done well! Cline did it well himself! In the first book! Its like the amount of references has been doubled and we spent half the book following Art3mis geeking out about Hughes and Aech geeking out about Prince. Theres nothing wrong with that, I love both. But it was overkill.

Finally, the ending. It was like Cline reached the end of the book, realised he’d reached the end and needed to make and ending so he decided upon the most ridiculous ending that I’ve ever read. This was bad, folks. Beginning, middle, end. I don’t know when everyone from authors to Hollywood is going to learn that half the stuff that they reboot and write sequels too doesn’t need any of that.

10. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. By all rights their paths should never cross, but Achilles takes the shamed prince as his friend, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But then word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus journeys with Achilles to Troy, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.

Profoundly moving and breathtakingly original, this rendering of the epic Trojan War is a dazzling feat of the imagination, a devastating love story, and an almighty battle between gods and kings, peace and glory, immortal fame and the human heart.

4 out of 5 stars

This year has been a trip, literarily speaking. The lows have been rock bottom and the highs have been… well, pretty goddamn high. The Song of Achilles was definitely one of those highs. Honestly, i’m ridiculously late to the party, but I am now fully on board the Madeline Miller train. I’ve been obsessed with greek mythology since the third grade (yes, it stemmed from Percy Jackson, but wasn’t that the beginning for all of us) and i’m always on the hunt for an interest retelling. This was the stuff of my dreams. Plus, Miller’s writing is lyrical and gorgeous and makes me want to cry (but in a really good way). It was a much needed break between the one stars i’d read before this and the two star just around the corner.

Also, can we just take a moment to appreciate how smooth that transition was? Okay? Thanks. Moving on.

11. Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

The year is 2380, and the graduating cadets of Aurora Academy are being assigned their first missions. Star pupil Tyler Jones is ready to recruit the squad of his dreams, but his own boneheaded heroism sees him stuck with the dregs nobody else in the Academy would touch…

A cocky diplomat with a black belt in sarcasm
A sociopath scientist with a fondness for shooting her bunkmates
A smart-ass techwiz with the galaxy’s biggest chip on his shoulder
An alien warrior with anger management issues
A tomboy pilot who’s totally not into him, in case you were wondering

And Ty’s squad isn’t even his biggest problem—that’d be Aurora Jie-Lin O’Malley, the girl he’s just rescued from interdimensional space. Trapped in cryo-sleep for two centuries, Auri is a girl out of time and out of her depth. But she could be the catalyst that starts a war millions of years in the making, and Tyler’s squad of losers, discipline-cases and misfits might just be the last hope for the entire galaxy.

They’re not the heroes we deserve. They’re just the ones we could find. Nobody panic.

2 out of 5 stars

Yet another hyped up disappointment. I was really hoping to enjoy this, but apparently the odds just weren’t in my favour. Here are some thoughts I had after finishing and while reading the book that are pretty much going to act as my review.

1. I liked some of the characters, I’m not gonna lie. It took me a while though. Tyler wasn’t bad, I liked Scarlett, Cat infuriated me, Kal grew on me, Zila seemed cool, hope to see more from her POV, Aurora was… fine? And Fin’s exoskeleton must be needing some repairs from carrying the whole goddamn books on his shoulders.

2. It reminded me of Guardians of the Galaxy.

3. I’m not a fan of the path the plot is taking? Like it had potential but I feel like… the end just went in a completely different way than I wanted it to.

4. It took a while for me to get into the story, and I only had a while to enjoy before it started going downhill.

5. I HATE the writing style. Like hate it with the wrath of a thousand suns kind of hate it.

6. The girl hate gets a bit annoying.

7. Comparing this to Six of Crows is blasphemous in my books. Safe to say, I didn’t hate this, I will be picking up the next book, but this did nothing to endear me to the sci fi genre.

*****

12. Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey Mcquiston

First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is the closest thing to a prince this side of the Atlantic. With his intrepid sister and the Veep’s genius granddaughter, they’re the White House Trio, a beautiful millennial marketing strategy for his mother, President Ellen Claremont. International socialite duties do have downsides—namely, when photos of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis Prince Henry at a royal wedding leak to the tabloids and threaten American/British relations. The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince.

As President Claremont kicks off her reelection bid, Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret relationship with Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations. What is worth the sacrifice? How do you do all the good you can do? And, most importantly, how will history remember you?

4 out of 5 stars

READ THIS GODDAMN BOOK, LAUGH AND CRY YOUR EYES OUT AND COME BACK AND THANK ME (or don’t if you don’t want to but you probably will want to). This was another reread and I felt all the feels all over again. The Great Turkey fully made me muffle my laughter at 2 o’clock all over again. One of the best romances i’ve read, not that i’ve read a lot, but this would probably still rank near the top. Read it, read it, read it. You probably have everyone on the internet screaming at you to read it, I don’t mind joining the chorus in this case. That is all.

*****

13. Sadie by Courtney Summers

A missing girl on a journey of revenge. A Serial―like podcast following the clues she’s left behind. And an ending you won’t be able to stop talking about.

Sadie hasn’t had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she’s been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water.

But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister’s killer to justice and hits the road following a few meagre clues to find him.

When West McCray―a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America―overhears Sadie’s story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie’s journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it’s too late.

Courtney Summers has written the breakout book of her career. Sadie is propulsive and harrowing and will keep you riveted until the last page.

4 out of 5 stars

Honestly, what is there for me to say that hasn’t already been said? Sadie is absolutely fantastic. It’s one of those books that makes you look at other books in the same genre, YA, in this case, and wonder why they just can’t be as good. This book took me by the shoulders and screamed YA contemporaries can be good right in my face. And I appreciate the wake up call.

I especially loved the moments where Sadie was literally coming up on bits of her past on her journey, it was absolutely heartbreaking seeing those quiet moments which alludes to something that we know is happening, but we never actually see.

For those of you that don’t know, Sadie is written partly as an ordinary narrative, and partly as a podcast, and the author did something incredibly cool. The podcast was actually recorded. So I read the narrative in Sadie’s perspective, and then for the podcast parts, actually listened to it on Spotify. I would highly recommend reading the book that way.

*****

All in all, I read 8 books that were 4 stars and above (two of which were rereads) and 5 books that were 2 stars and below, which is pretty damn good, knowing me. It was a pretty solid balance if you discount the rereads in this kind of thing, which I usually do since my rating is rarely changed and I reread books knowing that I’ll have a good time. I didn’t read any three star books this month which was surprising since a lot of books rank average for me.

The Song of Achilles, The Haunting of Hill House, King of Scars, A Year of Rest and Relaxation and maybe even A Little Life were some of my favourite new reads this month. What about you? Did you read any new favourites? Any terrible books that you just need to rant about? Any recommendations for me? Let me know in the comments.

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