book reviews

January 2021: Recent Reads

It’s that time again! We’re already halfway through January. Seems a little mind-bendy, if you ask me.

Here in Ecuador, first semester doesn’t end before Christmas; it ends the last week of January. So we’re busy doing end-of-semester things like report cards and mid-year assessments. And trying to keep our chins up amidst more online school. (My school has been online all year so far.)

As I scrolled down my Goodreads “read” list to remind myself what I’ve read in the last month, it was quite clear that I was on Christmas break for most of it. Add to that the fact that I was severely missing my family and was quarantined due to my roommate having COVID, and you get a recipe for lots of books in the fantasy and romance genres: my go-to comfort/escape-the-world reading.


I did finish a couple of nonfiction books, but I’m saving them for a later book list so I don’t get too redundant.

I’m also close to done with Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, but I’m not done yet. So you’ll have to wait til next month for a review.


The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel

the book of lost names - historical fiction

I have long known that I am a WWII resistance aficionada, but I’ve been reading a bunch of them lately! This month I read yet another beautiful one. While I wasn’t super happy with the ending when I finished – it seemed a little too unrealistic, it has grown on me.

I learned much more about the brave lives who forged identification papers for people trying to reach Switzerland. I never knew it involved so much! I saw the tension between ensuring the safety of one’s own family and helping the “greater good.” And once again I was astounded and awed by the courage of the people who risked their lives to rescue the lives of others. Heads up for one sort of open door scene.

The Princess Game by Melanie Cellier

The Princess Game fairytale

This book is a creative “reimagining” of Sleeping Beauty. The rest of the series are retellings of familiar fairytales as well. I haven’t read the rest of them though, and this is #4 in the series. Except for the epilogue, it seems to stand on its own.

At first, the premise for the twist on the curse was hard to wrap my head around, but I appreciated the fact that the main character didn’t just lie in bed and sleep for years. She was actively helping her kingdom – but no one could know. They had to think she was an empty-headed princess.

I usually love retellings of fairytales, like Robin McKinley’s Beauty or the Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles. This one did not disappoint.

A touch of {clean} romance + a mysterious rebellion in the kingdom + and a chance for redemption = delightful reading.

The Reckoners Trilogy, Brandon Sanderson

The Reckoners (3 book series) Kindle Edition, fantasy

This was my second foray into Sanderson’s work, after completing the Mistborn series earlier in 2020. I appreciated how the reader slowly learns more about how the Epic powers work through the eyes of David.

I felt, at the end, that the explanation was a little too fast and simple, compared with all of the build-up and mystery. But I did enjoy all three stories, gobbled them up really fast, and liked his imaginative employment of alternate universes/realities. I also really appreciate the redemptive elements and good vs. evil that are present in Sanderson’s works.

Red Queen (and series) by Victoria Aveyard

Red Queen - fantasy, dystopian

I will tell you right off the bat: I liked the first book, was okay with the second, and didn’t finish the third. I guess the image on the cover should have tipped me off that it would be a dark enough tale – but the synopsis made me think that it would not. Perhaps that’s my naivete.

The premise is good: a lowly “red blood” girl finds out accidentally that she has super powers even greater – and different from – the “silver bloods” (the nobility). She recognizes the vast inequalities in their culture and wants to fight it, so she joins the resistance group. Turns out the group is bigger than she knew, and she gets into a big hot mess. Plus, there’s a love quadrangle. A triangle wasn’t enough. Nope there had to be THREE boys who go googly eyed over this enigmatic, untrusting, very imperfect heroine.

I didn’t stop reading because of the absurd love quadrangle, though. Essentially, I stopped reading because I wasn’t seeing a redemptive element in it, and it just kept getting darker and darker. I wish I knew how it ended, because I’d like to see a better-ever-after ending for all of the characters, but I find that if a series gets too dark, I can’t stomach it. (Throne of Glass and Ash Princess are two other series I didn’t finish for similar reasons.)

The Fifth Avenue Story Society by Rachel Hauck

Fifth Avenue Story Society - realistic fiction

I saw some disgruntled reviews on GR because toward the end there is an overt Christian message and they were taken by surprise. It didn’t take me by surprise, because I noticed the little hints throughout the book. Even though I’m a Christian, that doesn’t mean I love how all “Christian” books are written. To me, the good news felt a little forced compared to way the rest of the book was written.

Five people are mysteriously and, seemingly randomly, chosen to be part of the Fifth Avenue Story Society, but none of them can figure out who invited them or why they, in particular were chosen. Their first few meetings are stilted and awkward, but they decide to keep meeting. Turns out that they all need the support of the others as they work through some big challenges and find healing.

I gave it 3 stars on Goodreads – I liked it, because I like most stories of emotional and relational healing, but it wasn’t a top read for me by any means.

Kid Lit

Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman

Fortunately the Milk - fantasy

This book: what a delight. I’ve heard of Neil Gaiman but have not read much of his stuff. I enjoyed reading this fantastical story so much! It’s absurd and framed by a dad going to get milk for his children for their breakfast cereal, but he takes seemingly forever.

When they ask him why he took so long, he launches into a swashbuckling, rather run-on tale that involves dinosaurs, a time-traveling hot air balloons, a deified volcanos, some “wumpires” and aliens. I laughed and delighted in his use of language.

And my teacher heart also loves how much good teaching materials there is – both for language learning and worldview discussing purposes – in such a fun context.

The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan

Last Fifth Grade Emerson Elementary - realistic fiction kids book

First of all, wow. Just WOW.

Laura Shovan managed to write an entire novel in verse, from the perspective of EIGHTEEN different fifth graders. I mean, most people would struggle to write a novel in verse from one person’s perspective; forget eighteen.

Yet she did it stupendously, terrifically well, even managing to capture what fifth grade is like – changing friendships, family problems, hitting puberty – under the larger plotline of the students protesting the school board’s decision to shut the school down at the end of the school year.

My one beef, and this may be controversial for some of you, is that one of the female students is trying to figure out her sexual identity. It is fairly subtle in its presentation, but fifth graders tend to be smart cookies, and I know there are some of my students who would figure it out.

I am all for having books that help us say, “what? you too?” in our experience of being human, but I also don’t think that every book is appropriate for every kid at any given point in time. So, knowing what’s in it, I wouldn’t recommend this to just any kid. I’d be pretty particular about who I recommend it to.

DNF (Did Not Finish)

The Bear and The Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Bear and Nightingale fantasy

I had seen such excitement over this book, and liked most of what I read, so I really wanted to be able to finish this, especially for the Book Voyage Challenge I’m doing this year. But I couldn’t.

For the part that I did read (I DNF’d at about 75%), I was fascinated by the pieces of Russian folklore that were woven into the story about a girl who is different, but destined for greatness, even if she is misunderstood. The book is very well-written.

However – and this is a big however – most of that folklore involves demons/spirits. And you guys. The spirit realm is real. And when some demons and some sort of strange witchery are portrayed as the good guys, I have a problem with it. They’re not the good guys.

Also, the undead. I just can’t. Ever since reading Dracula for high school English, I have not been able to stomach anything with vampire-ish creatures – except one series a few years ago of which I can’t even remember the name. Even that was a little rough.

So I didn’t finish. I know some people won’t have a problem with this sort of content, although I sometimes wonder if more people should. But I know myself (see above review on Red Queen), so I should have listened to my gut when it told me to stop around thirty percent. Well, my goal is that I’ll listen better to my gut next time. And hopefully I won’t wake up the next morning to a big, ol’ moth flying in my tiny bathroom and scaring the bejeebers out of me at 7am when I open the door.

big ol’ moth.

Currently Reading

  • You Are a Bada** at Making Money by Jen Sincero
  • Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil DeGrasse Tyson

On Hold

  • Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing
  • The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
  • The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande

What are you reading right now? I always love some good book recommendations – and others might love your recommendations, too!

P.S. – As usual, linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy’s monthly Quick Lit.

P.P.S. – Photo at top of post by Ylanite Koppens on

5 thoughts on “January 2021: Recent Reads

    1. That’s great! Yes, I am definitely adding Fortunately, the Milk to my list of top read aloud ideas. I love that it appeals to kids AND adults, because then everyone has fun with the reading experience.

      I hope you enjoy the Princess Game!


  1. What an incredible and wide selection! I love your honest opinions πŸ™‚
    I’m currently reading something that I didn’t expect to be so fascinating: “Stiff” by Mary Roach, a non-fiction about the incredible ‘life’ of cadavers! πŸ™‚


    1. Yes, I do read far and wide πŸ™‚ I have a few genres I don’t prefer (mysteries and thrillers, for example), but I’ve been working to expand my typical reads over the last few years!

      Thanks for appreciating my honest opinions! Sometimes it’s a little nerve-wracking to put them out their for the whole world to see, so I appreciate the affirmation.

      And your nonfiction read . . . hmm sounds interesting, if not a little creepy/weird. I’m assuming it’s about how they’re used for research, etc?


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