Hops and Skips

Reading Roundup: January in Review

Every year, I set abstract goals for myself in regards to my reading – things like “read books I already own” or “alternate titles from my school library with adult books.” For example, last year, I aimed to read hefty or daunting books that had been on my list for a while, but I forgot about this goal by May. 

One thing that’s consistent, though: I always aim to read widely, purposefully seeking diverse books instead of just picking up what I would naturally stumble across. To that end, this year I’ve committed to two different reading challenges to guide much of my reading:

  1. Book Riot’s annual Read Harder Challenge, a list of 24 categories for which the reader selects each title
  2. #readtheworld21, a hashtag challenge from a couple of Bookstagrammers that guides readers to a different country or region each month of the year. (It began in April 2020 with a goal of 21 countries by the end of 2021; I’ve begun with the new year.)

Here’s what I read in January:

The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert  ★★★★☆
Technically, I started this in December, but it was my first finish of 2021. It’s a middle-grade book from my school shelves starring Alberta, a surf-loving girl from a beach town in California who, until new girl Edie moves across the street, is the only black girl in town. The girls find a box of old journals in Edie’s attic, sparking an adventure to find out the story behind them. I loved this especially for its representation – by a Black author about Black characters in a setting that’s uncommon for youth lit (affluent west coast beach town) – and Alberta has two dads! But while race is a defining component in the main character’s experience, it is identified (as it should be) but not the only part of the story. It’s also just about universal middle school dramas, such as the fear that two of your friends are becoming better friends with each other than they are with you. (So painfully familiar I actually cringed.) The author did a good job of balancing the different components to the story she wanted to tell.

The Empty House by Rosamunde Pilcher  ★★★☆☆
Read as #13, “a book with a cover you don’t like,” for the Read Harder Challenge. (All Rosamunde Pilcher books look deceptively like tawdry romances, and that’s misleading.) In this, Virginia returns to the seaside town she visited as a young woman where she fell in love with a handsome young farmer. Now, though, she’s widowed with two young children and looking for a fresh start. (Okay, that does kind of sound like a tawdry romance.) Compared to Pilcher’s other novels, this is definitely a novella and, perhaps because of this, it’s actually my least favorite of hers I’ve read. It was short and very surface-level; the premise was brief, and there wasn’t very thorough character development. I guess this is typical for a novella – and it wasn’t bad – but it wasn’t very satisfying…and Pilcher books, to me, are usually exceptionally satisfying!

Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami  ★★★★☆
For the #readtheworld21 challenge, it was #JanuaryinJapan, and I picked an author I’d never read. (And also, the Read Harder “non-European novel in translation.”) Tsukiko is a 38-year-old single woman who reunites with a former teacher one night at a local bar, sparking an ongoing relationship that, initially, mostly involves sake. They’re drinking buddies, and Tsukiko gains a new kind of life filled with the oddities of her “Sensai” – they go on a mushroom-hunting trip with their familiar bartender; they visit museums and restaurants as an odd sort of couple; they argue and avoid each other until tempers have cooled. There’s something so distinct about Japanese literature (at least what I’ve read). There’s a quietness and subtlety to the writing; language is succinct, never superfluous. The emotions are universal – common, even – but written with such an ache of loneliness, as well. But somehow, despite my usual preferences, I’m always drawn into the characters and their lives. This was a lovely, surprising, unconventional peek into lives. 

Tomorrow Will Be Better by Betty Smith  ★★★☆☆
My favorite book of youth is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, so when this out-of-print title by the same author was republished, I was first on the library hold list. Set in the 1930s, Margy is an Irish daughter of Brooklyn. She’s shy and reserved but dreams big of a tomorrow that’s better than the present. She was raised with optimism (as all children are), by parents determined to do better for their offspring, but who fall into the same traps as their parents before them. Life with Frankie, a neighborhood boy with his own dreams, feels like just the break she needs for the promise of a life without poverty and petty arguments, but Margy quickly learns how hard it is to break the cycle. This is certainly a snapshot of a particular time and place. You’ll be rooting for the main character, mostly because life under these guilt-tripping parents is agonizingly insufferable. But compared to Francie Nolan, Margy is flat. 

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline  ★★★☆☆
I decided to amp up my Read Harder picks this month just to get ahead; this is my pick for “a genre novel by an Indigenous, First Nations, or Native American author.” In this dystopian drama, the world has been ravaged by global warming, and the population has lost the ability to dream. The only ones who can still dream are the Indigenous, and society is hunting them down, hoping to capture the dreams held in their bone marrow. As a result, they’re on the run, living a life strictly of survival, holding onto the smallest hope, held in their dreams, of a better future. It took me forever to get into this book. It’s a compelling premise, but the story is rather slow-paced and the language more cerebral than direct; to me, it lacked the passion and urgency of a page-turner. By the end, I was intrigued but would have rather felt that pull the whole way through.

Share the Post:

Related Posts