What I Read in January 2021

January may have felt like the longest month on Earth, but at least it gave me time to get through some books! I read six books last month with my ultimate goal to read 52 books in 2021, so I’d say I’m off to a pretty good start. I’m also pretty proud of myself for getting out of my romance/YA comfort zone in January and reading an unprecedented 3 non-fiction books! Plus, a science fiction! Exciting stuff.

Kindred by Octavia Butler

My first book of 2021 was a little out of the box for me, but I’ve wanted to read more Octavia Butler for years. I’ve read some of her work in school, but never sat down with one of her novels on my own until Kindred. I would definitely recommend this one if you’re looking to branch out into sci fi but are looking for a book that’s rooted in a more traditional narrative structure.

The story follows Dana as she travels back and forth in time between in the 1970’s and the early 1800’s (so definitely sci fi), but the focus is more on her personal experiences as a Black woman going between two completely different times. Less fantasy, more fiction.

Recommend if you’re looking for: science fiction, historical fiction, Black author, female author.

*Trigger warnings for sexual violence and rape.

The Boys in the Boat (The Young Adult Edition) by Gregory Mone

I originally heard about this book from one of my favorite bookstagrammers, Carly, and saw it available as an audiobook on my library app so I thought I’d give it a chance. I inadvertently checked out the Young Readers version (which I find hilarious) so I clearly didn’t get the full story, but as a reluctant non-fiction reader I was fine with an abridged version.

In general, I totally understand the appeal of this story. A young man grows up in poverty, pulls himself up by his bootstraps to join the crew team, and goes on to win Olympic gold in the face of Hitler himself. It’s compelling. And there’s part of me that wonders if I would have gotten more out of the original version, but not enough to actually re-read it. Overall, I thought it was good not great and not really my cup of tea.

Recommend if you’re looking for: sports, underdog stories, rowing, books that dads like

Untamed by Glennon Doyle

I’d never heard of Glennon Doyle until this book came out. I’m not big into Christian Mommy Blogger culture (and any book named Love Warrior sort of makes me want to vom), so I was surprised when a friend recommended this book to me after hearing Glennon on Brené Brown’s podcast.

In some ways, I loved this book and am so glad it’s gotten a huge reception. Setting boundaries, recognizing the limitations and expectations that patriarchy puts on women, and learning to truly listen to yourself are things I’m glad more women are reading about. They’re things that I’ve been working on a lot right now myself!

But it’s impossible to praise this book without recognizing that Glennon’s whole system is pretty privileged. I’m by no means saying she’s had it easy (having dealt with addiction, going through divorce, coming out to conservative-leaning Christian audience, etc.) but sometimes her advice comes off as unrealistic and not particularly in-tune with the struggles of everyday people that lack the safety nets that she has. The second half of the book also sort of comes off as a whistle-stop tour of social issues she wants to make sure we knew she’s woke about, which felt forced. Her own story is told beautifully, though, and I definitely got a lot out of reading it so, overall, I recommend!

Recommend if you’re looking for: self-help, inspirational, memoir, female author, LGBTQ+ author

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

Like a lot of people, I grew up watching the original Star Wars movies and over the years have become more and more interested in Carrie Fisher. Between the Princess Leia stardom, her relationship with her mother, Debbie Reynolds, her iconic Larry King interview where she says she doesn’t consider men people, she’s always stood out to me as a smart, sharp-tongued woman in Hollywood. So, when I saw her 2016 autobiography was available as an audiobook I took a chance on it.

My overall are thoughts: I loved the first half and hated the second half. The first half of the book is all about her young life when she was cast in and filming the first Star Wars movie with the main plot line centering on her affair with Harrison Ford. There’s a stunning section that features journal entries from her time filming that so poignantly describe First Love and the insecurities that come with early dating.

But the second half of the book takes a really depressing nose dive. While the first half is achingly beautiful, the second half is incredibly bitter. While never addressing her widely-known struggles with addiction, she talks a lot about her money troubles and having to sign autographs and attend Star Wars conventions to pay the bills (events that she calls “lap dances”). It’s honestly sad and hard to listen to. So, I guess I’m saying stop half way.

Recommend if you’re looking for: Star Wars behind-the-scenes, celebrity-memoir, female-author

Head Over Heels by Hannah Orenstein

Nearing the end of the month I’d read so much non-fiction that I was craving a fluffy romantic comedy so I took this one out from the library after seeing it on a number of bookstagram feeds.

When I first heard it was about gymnastics, I wondered if it would address the USA gymnastics sexual abuse scandal and how it would handle a topic like that in the context of a romance novel. I won’t give too much away, but the author does address these issues (I found the forward she provided really helpful for context) and, in my opinion, does a great job at balancing the gravity of these issues with moments of female empowerment, friendship, and love. It felt uplifting while still being honest and vulnerable about the systemic issues that plague elite sports, especially for women and girls. Oh and there’s a cute romance in there, too.

It’s definitely a heavier read than I thought it would be and the romance certainly takes a backseat, but it’s my favorite book I’ve read so far this year and I totally recommend it if you’re looking for a romantic comedy with a little more depth.

Recommend if you’re looking for: sports, gymnastics, romantic comedy, female friendship, light romance

*Trigger warnings for sexual abuse.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice & Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

One of my goals for 2021 is to read more LGBTQ+ romance and I saw this book on quite a few Best Of lists. It’s technically a young adult novel and is a fun, modern reimagining of a young man’s adventure tale. It’s around 500 pages, but it’s a quick, breezy read filled with European travels, pirates, PG-13 romantic romps, and a plot line about alchemical magic that I’m not entirely sure I understood but it didn’t really matter anyway.

I read this while sick in bed last weekend and it was just a total joy. It would be an excellent beach read or vacation read (if we ever go on those again) and I’m delighted that there are two sequels to it for me to pick up the next time I need an adventure.

Recommend if you’re looking for: modern Treasure Island vibes, historical fiction, adventure, light romance, LGBTQ+ romance

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