January Wrap-Up // 2021

January By the Numbers:
  • Total Books Read: 15
  • Audiobooks: 0
  • Five Star Reads: 0
  • Goodreads Shelf: 15/125 (12%)
  • Unread Shelf: 3 (20%)
  • Nonfiction Challenge: 0/12
  • Books by BIPOC Authors: 11 (73%)
  • By Women Authors: 10 (67%)
  • Diverse Books: 11 (73%)
  • Nonfiction Reads: 6 (40%)
  • Debuts: 9 (60%)
  • Published in 2021: 8 (53%)

Favorite Book of January:

The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr.

Honorable Mentions:

  • The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio
  • Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu

For Fans of Fiction:

  • * Memorial by Bryan Washington – I saw a lot of mixed reviews and I think that deterred me from picking this one up sooner. I can understand why this one didn’t work for a lot of people, but I’ve found that the further away I get from reading it, the more I find my mind drifting back to Mike and Benson’s world. What is most unique about Memorial is Washington’s exploration into what a relationship in decline looks like. Mike and Benson handle it very differently and I got very emotional about their relationship. I also loved Washington’s portrayal of grief – especially how grief looks when the relationship was a difficult one.
  • * Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour – I wanted to fall in love with this satirical novel about the microagressions present in the white-collar world of New York corporations, but much of it just felt outlandish and absurd to me. I found many of the characters unlikeable, even the ones that I was supposed to be rooting for. I did like the twist at the end, though it wasn’t enough to save the experience for me.

For Fans of Fiction With a Touch of Magical Realism/Mythology:

  • * Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn – Washburn does an incredible job of making Hawaiian culture and traditions come alive in this book! I was highly immersed in this world that blended themes of love, grief, and Hawaiian folklore. Washburn convinced me that he has a true talent for storytelling and I look forward to what he writes in the future!
  • * The Removed by Brandon Hobson – So many people have loved this book, and while I enjoyed it enough, I think I was let down because I went into it expecting a totally different story. I appreciated the Cherokee mythology that is dispersed throughout the story, and I also thought Hobson did a great job of showing how grief can affect individuals differently. I wished there was more character development – just as I was becoming invested in some of the character’s roles, the story would abruptly move forward and this disjointedness made it hard for me to settle in and get comfortable.
  • Pet by Akwaeke Emezi – I was introduced to Emezi late last year and I have since devoured all of their books! Pet was the last one left for me to read, and unfortunately, it wasn’t my favorite. It’s quite clear that Emezi likes to write outside the box and I really appreciate that about them. But the topic of Pet just didn’t connect with me and I certainly felt underwhelmed compared to the other two books I read by them.

For Fans of Memoir:

  • * Aftershocks by Nadie Owusu – This incredible memoir isn’t just the author’s personal story, it’s a cultural and historical journey as well! Owusu is well-traveled, mulitlingual, and incredibly smart and independent. Her father passed away when she was young and she has grappled with the grief of that loss ever since. I appreciated Owusu’s vulnerabilty and the rawness with which she relayed her story.
  • * Good Apple: Tales of a Southern Evangelical in New York by Elizabeth Passarella – This book satisfied my fantasies about living in the Big Apple and living a very urban lifestyle. When Passarella talked about strolls through Central Park to feed the ducks with her children, I had a tinge of jealousy. But then she quickly balanced that with the reality of cramming a family into a small apartment that cost an arm and a leg. Sprinkled in with humor and a little bit of politics, this was a fun memoir that made me long for a life in the city and gave me appreciation for my wide open spaces in equal parts.

For Fans of Historical Fiction:

  • * The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr. – When I try to put words to my thoughts on this book, they always feel insignificant. This is a true literary masterpiece and it’s unbelieveable for me to think that this is Jones’ debut; if this is any indication of his talent, we are all in for a treat! Jones weaves an intricate story about the Halifax plantation – more appropriately known to its residents as “Empty” – in the backwoods of Mississippi. While this story demands a lot from its readers, the payoff is more than worth it!
  • * When the Apricots Bloom by Gina Wilkerson – I have never read a story set in Iraq under Sadam Hussein’s regime, so I was totally drawn to this one for that reason. I learned a lot about living under an unreasonable and egocentric dictator. I often found myself feeling so grateful to live in a country where I have the freedoms I do, and hoping that I never know the life these people know. Though the three women in the story were drawn to each other, they also knew that they couldn’t trust anyone. How hard it must be to live in a world where you’re always looking over your back, never knowing who you can trust, and fearing you’ll be caught up in something you never intended to.
  • The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner – Had this historical fiction book stuck with the devastation and aftermath of a huge earthquake that hit the San Francisco area in 1906, I would have liked it more. But some of Sophia’s story was a little too out there for me, and some events leading up to and following the earthquake (no spoilers!) just didn’t work for me. I loved the relationship between the women and felt this aspect of the story was the strongest.

For Fans of Westerns With a Feminist Twist:

  • Outlawed by Anna North – This book has one of the best opening lines I’ve ever read, and thankfully, the brilliance didn’t stop there! I was immediately sucked into this quirky reimagining of the Wild West and I couldn’t read it fast enough. At just 17-years-old, Ada is banished from her hometown when she is accused of being a witch. She eventually finds a place among the Hole in the Wall Gang – a group of nonbinary, barren women. While I quickly became invested in the story and its characters, I do think it was a bit too short, sacrificing some character development and a satisfying ending. Regardless of those complaints, I’m so glad I read this one!

For Fans of Nonfiction:

  • * The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejos Villavicencio – I was expecting a memoir of Villavicencio’s experience being an undocumented person in America, and while this book does give the reader that, it is so much more! Villavicencio travels to specific parts of America and then deep dives into undocumented people’s stories in that region. The section on Flint was incredibly eye-opening to me; I had read some very surface-level articles about the poisonious lead levels in the water there, but Villavicencio humanized it by putting actual people behind the headlines. I was absolutely gutted by this book and believe everyone should make the time to read it!
  • Black Futures by Kimberly Drew & Jenna Wortham – This book is truly a masterpiece! A beautiful compilation of all the things that represent being Black in America – from essays, poems, memes, recipes, photos, etc. I felt a wide range of emotions as I explored these pages, and it will be a book I return to over and over again.
  • * Culture Warlords: My Journey Into the Dark Web of White Supremacy by Talia Lavin – Culture Warlords is incredibly timing given the rise of alt-right groups and white supremacy over the last several years, the recent presidential elections, and the insurrection that happened at the U.S. Capitol earlier in the month. After reading this book, it is obvious that social media plays a huge role in the radicalization of some people, and this is truly a call to Big Tech and the government to figure out ways to limit the reach of these extremists while also honoring our right to free speech. It’s obvious now is the time for change, and it would be better sooner than later!

For Fans of Essay Collections:

  • Little Weirds by Jenny Slate – Many people who have followed Slate’s previous work have sung high praises for Little Weirds, but as it was my first introduction to her work, I can’t say it left the best first impression. Unfortunately I didn’t connect with much of the book, and I even struggle to remember what it was even about.
(Debuts denoted by *)

Unread Shelf Update:

I purged so many books off my shelf last year simply by participating in Whitney’s Unread Shelf Challenge, so I’m definitely going to do it again this year!

As of the end of January, the total number of physical books on my shelves is: 232

If you’d like to participate in the Unread Shelf Project, head over to Whitney’s blog for more information!

January Posts:

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