January Book Wrap-Up

2/01/2021



Well, January is over and it felt like the longest and yet shortest month of my life. Make it make sense. I had a decent reading month with 19 books. This is Part 2 of my wrap-up so be sure to check that post out if you have not done so already: Mid-January Wrap-Up 2020. Let's get onto the remaining reviews!



Record of a Spaceborn Few
Becky Chambers

Told through five different narratives, this follows a group of humans who live at the Galactic Commons. A sprawling universe of superficial intelligence, aliens, wars, and yet.. this group of people live normally. I suppose this is the first book in the Wayfarers series that explores humanity through actual humans, but it just read so... boring. I'm devastated to say that as I adore this series, this third installment simply felt unnecessary and like a stepping stone for Chambers to expand the universe. It didn't seem to have an actual plot, the characters were explored individually and yet only two seemed to have growth. It felt like I spend the entire novel waiting for something to happen. The writing was still very assessable and I didn't want to DNF, so that's why I'm still giving it a solid 2.5 rating. 


The Diving Pool: Three Novellas
Yōko Ogawa

Novellas are always hard to review/rate without delving into each individual story. This collection seemed to have a commentary on womanhood, loneliness, and growth. They were so weird that I truly can't wrap my mind around them. I enjoyed two and was completely thrown by one. If you've read other novels by the author (I strongly recommend The Housekeeper and the Professor) then you might want to pick this up. Her writing is seamless with very odd yet likeable characters. I want to read more translated work in 2021 and this definitely fueled my interest. 


The Guest List
Lucy Foley 

A group of people come together to celebrate the wedding of their respected party. But this isn't just any wedding. On a secluded island on the Irish coast, a group of people come together to celebrate what they peg as "the wedding of the year". Upper class Jules and popular TV personality Will make for the most picturesque couple. But things soon turn deadly when pranks go array and a body shows up. I was hesitant to pick this up despite the many raving reviews it has as the plot seemed a tad similar to books such as One by One and An Unwanted Guest, two books that I read last year and didn't wholeheartedly enjoy. However, this was such a pleasant surprise! The writing truly made this book addicting. I didn't want to stop reading and though the ending felt a tad rushed and predictable, I was enthralled! It reminded me a bit of the mini series Harper's Island. If you want a super fast-paced thriller with complex characters (aka: they aren't all just assholes), pick this up! HUGE trigger warning for self harm.


This Star Won't Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl
Lori Earl, Wayne Earl, Esther Earl, John Green

Esther Earl was a teenager who was diagnosed with cancer when she was 12-years-old. While sick, she discovered the beauty of the Internet world and immersed herself in fandoms to escape reality right up until she sadly passed away in 2010. She was a vlogger, author, and Nerdfighter. This is a collection of her writing, journal entries, online conversations, and art. I had never seen any of Esther's vlogs before picking up this TOME of a collection, but I had heard of her story through John Green. I honestly wept multiple times as I read this. At one point I had to go in the shower to cry. Esther was a beautiful human being who had so much to give to the world. I really appreciated how the words of her family and friends were included in the book as it gave it so much depth. I get that these kind of books may not be for everyone as reading some random journal entry about going to buy a CD may seem odd, but it just worked for me. If this has been on your radar, give it a try! It's never too late to read about someone's life. 


Side-note: Going off track here, but hear me out. Harry Potter is a very large topic throughout This Star Won't Go Out, Esther is heavily involved in the online Potter community and it led her to make beautiful friendships. It really made me think of the quote "Don't cry that it's over, smile because it happened.". Harry Potter has been a lifeline for so many people and we shouldn't dismiss them for continuing to love the books or movies. Yes, if they're continuing to support new things that she-who-shan't-be-named releases, they need to have a word with themselves. But I've seen a fair few people publicly shamed for continuing to have the books on their shelves or whatnot. It's okay to fall out of love with a creator, but not the world. You can't change the past. The Potter community is a place of love, and that can outshine the ugliness of Rowling. Just a thought.


Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows
Balli Kaur Jaswal

Nikki is the daughter of Indian immigrants, yet she's spent her life distancing herself from the traditional Sikh community. When her father’s death leaves the family financially strapped, Nikki, a law school dropout, impulsively takes a job teaching a "creative writing" course at the community center in the beating heart of London’s close-knit Punjabi community. Because of a miscommunication, the proper Sikh widows who show up are expecting to learn basic English literacy, not the art of short-story writing. When one of the widows finds a book of sexy stories in English and shares it with the class, Nikki realizes that beneath their white dupattas, her students have a wealth of fantasies and memories. Eager to liberate these modest women, she teaches them how to express their untold stories, unleashing creativity of the most unexpected smutty variety. I adored this book. It was the perfect balance between educational and fun. It was wonderful to learn more about the traditional life and ways of a Punjabi wife. The entire character list was great, and it was so much fun reading the banter between the women. I laughed out loud multiple times, which I wasn't expecting. All in all, a great all-round book. (Would make for a great buddy read!)

The Prince and the Dressmaker
Jen Wang

A intense bond forms between a Prince and a Dressmaker when the Prince hires her to make him dresses. Knowing that the kingdom will never accept him, the Royal sneaks out at night in flawlessly designed dresses and makes the town envious of his beauty. Oh my God, this was freaking adorable! I wasn't sure what to expect from this as it could've very easily been frivolous given that it's Middlegrade and about something that you don't always see in Children's literature. However, what a wonderfully done story. I think it gave a very convincing story of what it's like to be different and the hurdles that you have to jump over to be accepted. I liked that it had a somewhat bleak middle but came back around. But most of all, I really enjoyed that the Prince was straight but wanted to wear dresses. I sometimes feel like in books or TV shows, it's one extreme or the other. I feel like you rarely see the middle ground where someone's sexuality isn't in question, just their desires. This was simply a very well done graphic novel that I urge anyone to read. The art is also flawless. 


Eat, Pray, Love
Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert was in an unhappy marriage when she decided to call it quits and travel. (Self love at it's finest...?) Off to Italy, India, and Bali she went with only a small case and an advance for a book that she aimed to write throughout her travels. In Italy she fell in love with food, language, and herself. In India she found her Zen, peace, and love of life. In Bali she learnt to find spirituality. Okay, this is a semi controversial book nowadays, right? A lot of people class it as "white woman with money who is unhappy", and I fully get that. Elizabeth Gilbert is insanely privileged. But I still enjoyed this book. Learning about the different cultures and people was interesting. However, I can't in good conscience give this book a higher rating than 2.5 stars. This has not aged well, at all. There are so many slurs, questionable word choices, and iffy descriptions in here. I get that it was published 15 years ago, but jeez. I also found that some of her stories were very black/white. She never seemed to own up to any mistakes that she did. Meh. Overall, I'm glad I read this as it's on so many lists, but if you're searching for a woman's journey of self love, pick up Wild by Cheryl Strayed


I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness
Austin Channing Brown

This is a non-fiction look at the prejudices that a black woman faces in school, life, and business. Austin Channing Brown's parents gave her a white man's name in a bid to help her in life, and it works, right up until she turns up for an interview and is met with questioning stares at the fact that she's not only black, but also a woman. This is just one of the hundreds of things she, and so many others, have to face on a daily bases. This was a difficult book to listen to but entirely worthwhile. As a white woman I want to learn what I can do to help lift others, and this opened my eyes to so many things that I might overlook. It's hard to hear someone's pain, look at yourself, and realize that you aren't doing enough. Austin Channing Brown's strength radiates in her words and it's beautiful. I wanted a little more from this as I mistakenly thought it was part memoir, but I'm still thankful that I picked it up. I recommend the audiobook because.. goosebumps. 


Limelight 
Amy Poeppel 

Allison Brinkley has just moved her entire family to the dazzling lights of New York city. Her husband already has a job lined up, but Allison is struggling to find something that fits her. Enter in Carter Reid - a beloved popstar who has just been cast in a Broadway play who offers Allison an amazing opportunity to work within the inner circle of the rich and famous. Before seeing this at a library sale, I'd never heard of the book or the author but was drawn to it solely because of the Valley of the Dolls style cover. Yup, I'm that easily swayed into buying a book. Limelight gave me exactly what I was hoping for - a fun female protagonist, a bratty teenage popstar who just needs a mothering figure, and a commentary on "never being too old for a fresh start." In so many ways this book resembled the likes of early Taylor Jenkins Reid, Liane Moriarty, and Jojo Moyes. I feel like Limelight is the type of book that you'll already know whether you're going to enjoy simply by reading the premise. One thing I did really appreciate was the never wavering relationship between Allison and her husband. This story could've easily fallen down a cheating trope or divorce, but didn't. They had a healthy relationship which can be unheard of in Women's fiction. Fun, easy to read, and a great palate cleanser.


Shanghai Girls
Lisa See

Pearl and May are sisters, living carefree lives in Shanghai, the Paris of Asia. But when Japanese bombs fall on their beloved city, they set out on the journey of a lifetime, one that will take them through the Chinese countryside, in and out of the clutch of brutal soldiers, and across the Pacific to the shores of America. This book spans many years, from 1937 to the late 50's, and it's more of a look on the trails and obstacles Chinese immigrants had to face even in "the land of the free". I've never been more conflicted about a book. I wanted to really love this as I hadn't yet read a historical fiction from this narrative and a sisterly duo is one of my favourite things in books. However, this was a torturous read. And I mean that literally. There's a graphic rape scene in this that made me want to put the book down altogether as I felt physically sick. It didn't shy away from any brutality that May and Pearl faced and I don't know whether I needed that much pain in this story. May was an insufferable character that I ached to shake, both her and Joy (a character that comes later in the story) ruined the overall reading experience for me. I'm a little interested in picking up the sequel Dreams of Joy as the first novel did end on a cliffhanger, but, dayum. I may just read a spoiler review.


What was the best book you read this month? I'd love to know!

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