Quick Lit: January 2021

2021 got off to an interesting start for my reading life. I finished 20 books, which is one of my most prolific months in recent memory. But a surprising number of reads fell in the 3-star range, and there's only one book I'd rave about (not including my re-read). It's a bummer to not feel more excited overall about what I read! I have 21 reviews in today's post – my one re-read, the 19 new-to-me reads, and one book I did not finish but wanted to write about. It's a long post! If you enjoy this feature, check out other readers' reviews at Modern Mrs. Darcy.

THE LAST TRAIN TO KEY WEST BY CHANEL CLEETON – If you set aside the need for plausibility, this was an enjoyable read. I loved Cleeton's first book in the Cuban saga, Next Year in Havana, but wasn't crazy about the second, When We Left Cuba. This one fell somewhere in the middle – it wasn't as frustrating as Cuba but didn't have the magic of Havana! There's a lot of drama, and the shorter length kept the pace moving. The romance(s) are in instalove territory, but I've come to expect that from Cleeton. My favorite part was the unusual time period and setting, which taught me something new about history. I So Liked It but could have nitpicked it to death if I read it in a different mood. Thankfully, I just wanted to be transported to another place and Cleeton delivered! 

THE SEARCHER BY TANA FRENCH – Although different from French's other novels, The Searcher is another atmospheric Irish tale that I was still thinking about long after closing the last page. The story was engaging, and I loved that I didn't predict its resolution. I liked that it dealt with a missing person because you weren't sure whether there was even a mystery to solve. Written in third person – and from the point of view of an American! – it was a departure for French. But I still felt like I recognized her style and enjoyed seeing her do something new. I thought the hero and secondary characters were well-developed, and there are questions raised in this book that would make it great choice for a book club. So much to discuss! It's a very slow novel, but I still So Enjoyed It

TEN RULES FOR FAKING IT BY SOPHIE SULLIVAN* – Give a contemporary romance an illustrated cover and an intriguing summary, and I've got to at least try it. I appreciated Sullivan's depiction of social anxiety, and I felt a lot of sympathy for the heroine. I was rooting for her as she challenged herself to make some changes in her life. I did, however, feel like the book could have been a lot shorter. I listened to it on audio, and I was continually shocked by how much I had left to listen to. It was so slow, full of inner monologue, and had too many conflicts happening right at the end. The romance needed more development for me because I wasn't invested in this couple together, which is never great when that's the point of the genre. I'm So Okay With It – a good story that got lost in the length. 

WINTERING BY KATHERINE MAY – Wintering is one of those books that's hard for me to rate. Author Katherine May uses the concept of winter to describe the fallow periods of life, difficult times where we must rest and retreat from the world. She explores her own personal winters, discusses what happens in the natural world during winter, and explores what other places and cultures do during winter. I loved the premise, which felt particularly fitting for the pandemic we are currently living through, and highlighted numerous passages. But I didn't connect to every element of the execution. It was more memoir than I anticipated, and I didn't always understand May's conclusions. I wanted broader research into the topic rather than anecdotal, privileged musings. I So Liked It

THE OTHER BENNET SISTER BY JANICE HADLOW – If there's a Pride and Prejudice retelling, chances are good that I'll want to read it. This book got off to a slow start, mostly because it covers the events of P&P through Mary's eyes. I appreciated what Hadlow was doing, but it didn't totally hook me at that point. Once it jumped forward in time, I couldn't put it down! I loved that the story went somewhere new while still feeling believable. It added a lot of depth to Mary, giving me the opportunity to view her character in an entirely new light and consider other motives for her behavior. The nods to Austen's other novels was a clever touch, and I felt Hadlow remained true to the time period and Austen's style (without forcing it). It was overly long, but I So Loved It for the creativity and character growth.

THE NATURE OF THE BEAST BY LOUISE PENNY – It's always great to be back with Gamache! If you'd told me back when I finished book four that I'd be saying that one day, I would have thought you were lying. I still do not like the town of Three Pines or most of its inhabitants, but I adore Gamache and the other members of the Sûreté. The discovery and history of the supergun in this book was very interesting. When I read Penny's note at the end, I was shocked to discover it based on real events and people! That made it even more fascinating to me. I liked seeing how Gamache still played a role in the investigation with his change in status, and I loved the glimpse at one of his past cases. I So Enjoyed It and am looking forward to see where Penny takes these characters next.

THE HEIRESS GETS A DUKE BY HARPER ST. GEORGE – As I wrote in my reading journal when I finished this book: Swoon, swoon! This was an utterly delightful read, and it wouldn't have been on my radar at all if it wasn't for Book of the Month. I loved the premise – a titled but penniless Duke looking for an American heiress that he can marry to solve all of his problems. Is this a little bit instalove? Yes, and I can't explain why it worked for me here when I'm so quick dislike that in other books. But I just loved that the hero works to prove himself to the heroine so that she can see he doesn't just value her for her money. I was majorly in my feels about it! The heroine got in her own way a little bit, and there are definitely some modern mindsets in this historical romance. But I can't lie: I So Loved It

YOU HAVE A MATCH BY EMMA LORD* – After loving Tweet Cute last year, I was so excited to read this release. It's a cute, heartfelt YA contemporary about family, secrets, and finding your way. Y'all, I have a lot of issues with these parents. Reading it as a parent myself, I was horrified by the way they handled some things. I thought it would have been better without romance since that took focus away from the more important story for me. I liked seeing the sisters trying to develop a relationship, with a few missteps along the way. That was my favorite part! But I expected the camp setting to be a bigger element, didn't feel like anything happened in the first half of the book, and thought the passage of time was wonky. I finished and felt that I So Liked It.

DARK OF THE WEST BY JOANNA HATHAWAY – I saw a few positive reviews for this YA fantasy that made me excited to give it a try. And the comparisons to two books I love – The Winner's Curse and Code Name Verity – sealed the deal. I think those are accurate comps because you're getting a historical-inspired world without magic and heavy on the political scheming. And did I mention the airplanes? There are some interesting family dynamics, as well as an enemies-to-lovers romance. I listened to it on audio and loved the narrators. However, it was occasionally hard for me to follow due to all the various kingdoms, alliances, and politics. Plus, the pace dragged a bit at times. I So Liked It but felt like I might have appreciated it more if I'd read the physical copy and referenced the map.

THE STAR-CROSSED SISTERS OF TUSCANY BY LORI NELSON SPIELMAN – Stories about sisters are one of my book hooks, so I couldn't resist this Book of the Month selection last year. Although it was a little cheesy at times, I thought it was still an engaging story about a group of second-born daughters affected by an age-old family curse to never marry. I love the way Spielman explored how a belief about someone (or yourself) can shape who they are, how they live, and what choices they make. I thought that was the most thought-provoking aspect of the story. The Italian setting made me long to go on a trip with my bestie, and the characters' growth won me over by the end. I So Enjoyed It, though I hate at least one secondary character with a fiery passion for what she did to her sister.

EDUCATED BY TARA WESTOVER – I have a controversial opinion about this much-hyped and beloved book... I have a lot of Questions. This was an incredibly compelling read that had me on the edge of my seat while listening. It almost felt like fiction because I was always wondering, what will happen next?! I have no doubt in my mind that Westover suffered abuse and grew up in a toxic household. However, I didn't fully believe some aspects of her story (especially the medical situations) because the details truly didn't make sense, at least as described in here. 

This was the kind of memoir that made me fully aware of the fact that one person's truth doesn't always represent the full scope of a situation. I couldn't turn off my thoughts – They're off the grid but have a computer and a cell phone? Someone survived these burns without medical attention? They're uneducated but three of the children went on to earn PhDs? And that's just a fraction of what was running through my mind. I appreciated how Westover turns to her old journals, neighbors, and even her siblings to corroborate her story. But it was also disconcerting to be told they remembered (or she'd written about) an event differently than the way it was depicted in the book. 

It's not often that I am so conflicted about book. It's gripping and hard to put down, and I admire Westover's resilience and do believe that she's suffered trauma. But I'm not sure she's always the most reliable narrator and feel the memoir might have been better with more time/distance from the events. I'm So Okay With It

WAITING FOR THE NIGHT SONG BY JULIE CARRICK DALTON – This book's cover first caught my attention, and the summary appealed to me because it had hints of Where the Crawdads Sing (but in a contemporary setting). This dual timeline story was interesting but ultimately tried to do too much. It packs nature study, climate change, immigration, coming-of-age, and a murder mystery into one story. Although Crawdads succeeded at blending multiple genres, this would have benefited from a clearer focus. If there had been more character development and a little less time spent on topical issues, it would have worked better for me. There were fast-paced moments where I couldn't put it down, and I did like the mystery's resolution. I So Liked It but wanted more from it

THE SURVIVORS BY JANE HARPER – Although I enjoyed the books I've read previously from Harper, I wouldn't have picked this one up if it wasn't a Book of the Month selection. However, it started out strong – the setting was so atmospheric! Harper vividly described this coastal town, the threat of bad weather, and both the appeal and danger of the tides and caves. I wasn't sure if I was more afraid of the natural world or the killer inhabiting it. And then... the reveal. It was frustrating and so unsatisfying. I was so irritated at the end that it made the book's other weaknesses, such as lack of development between characters, more obvious. It became the most memorable mystery I've read from this author, simply because it made me so angry. Sadly, I'm So Over It.

GOOD APPLE BY ELIZABETH PASSARELLA – This book hadn't been on my radar, but I loved the cover and the subtitle, Tales of a Southern Evangelical in New York. Passarella's faith was deeply important to her and grounded everything she wrote. She didn't just call herself a Christian because she'd always gone to church; it was about a deep relationship with God. I loved reading about it! However, the essays overall were a mixed bag and the book lacked direction. It felt like reading all her opinions on various topics (marriage, parenting, miscarriage, politics, faith, life in New York, and more), and some felt like TMI or bothered me (like her anger/temper). I'd also argue that she isn't a "Southerner in New York" – she's a New Yorker who is from the South. I was So Okay With It.

MEET ME IN BOMBAY BY JENNY ASHCROFT* – The first half of this book was painfully slow for me, and I wasn't invested. I thought I knew exactly where the story was going... and then I was wrong! That's when I started to feel more engaged and couldn't put it down! Though much of the book takes place in England, I can see why it has drawn criticism for being a romanticized depiction of colonial India. The setting could have been moved to England entirely without drastically affecting the plot (and thus eliminating the problematic element). The draw for me was the question of "Will they find their way back to one another?" because I really cared about that conflict. I So Liked It by the end, but I might have DNF-ed early on if I didn't feel the need to stick with it longer to write a fair review.

THE WIFE UPSTAIRS BY RACHEL HAWKINS – A retelling of Jane Eyre that's a domestic thriller? I had to have it! The hype put this book on my radar, but it was the premise that convinced me to buy it. I loved how Hawkins turned this Gothic romance into a modern mystery, full of untrustworthy characters and dramatic twists. If you're familiar with the inspiration, I don't think you'll be truly shocked by anything in this story. And yet, it was still worth reading (in my opinion). The Southern setting of Birmingham, Alabama, was a nice bonus for me since there were elements that felt familiar. The short chapters kept the story moving, which gave it a great pace. It was an addicting read, even though it was pretty predictable. I So Enjoyed It and loved that the audiobook had multiple narrators! 

SHIPPED BY ANGIE HOCKMAN – I'd seen this described as a cross between The Hating Game by Sally Thorne and The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren, which is a huge reason I picked it up. I love both of those books, and I can absolutely see those comparisons for Shipped. I loved the hints of hate-to-love that showed how easily people can misinterpret one anothers' words and actions. The cruise ship setting was a delight, and I learned about ecotourism, and which was a nice bonus. I felt like the romance played out in a very enjoyable way. The secondary characters were a nice bonus, and they added to my investment in the story. Is it the most memorable rom com I've ever read? No, but I did find it very engaging and So Enjoyed It. I flew through it once I started!

THE EX TALK BY RACHEL LYNN SOLOMON – I was really expecting to love this one, but it didn't quite hit the spot for me. The heroine got on my nerves, which I somewhat attribute to disliking the audiobook narrator. Something about her tone was so melancholy to me. Once I returned that format and picked up the physical book, things improved. I knew that the premise of the story involved a lie and thought I'd be able to accept it, but I found it a lot harder to get past than I expected. The fake dating aspect wasn't the problem – it was the fact that these two radio hosts were blatantly lying to grow their audience, gain advertisers, and raise funding. It definitely colored how I felt about the characters and their relationship. I So Liked It in a lot of ways, but I did have some reservations.

NONE SHALL SLEEP BY ELLIE MARNEY – I had to pick up this psychological thriller by the author of a Sherlock Holmes-inspired YA series that I love. I'd been a little hesitant, however, because it's described as Silences of the Lambs meets Sadie. That sounded so creepy! Set in 1982, two teens – a serial killer survivor and a US Marshal candidate – are recruited by the FBI to interview juvenile killers. They are told to focus on cold cases, but that plan was pretty much DOA. As I've come to expect from Marney, it was hard to put down! She excels at building tension. It was dark and not for anyone squeamish. Some of the descriptions... *shudder.* I So Liked It, but there are many on Goodreads who've raved it. For me, it won't live on in my memory now that the thrill is gone. 

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE BY JANE AUSTEN – Listening to Pride and Prejudice on audio, with Rosamunde Pike's lovely narration, was the perfect way to kick off 2021. If I was forced to choose my favorite book of all time, I think it would be this one. I collect copies of it, can't resist retellings, and adore the movie adaptations. It was the starting point for my obsession with all things Jane Austen! I don't think I will ever get tired of this story, even though I know what will happen. I still feel so invested in it, and each re-read introduces me to something new to love about Austen's writing, the characters, and the plot itself. I'm So Obsessed With It and thankful for the comfort of an old favorite.

MAKE UP BREAK UP BY LILY MENON* – [DNF REVIEW] I don't typically write DNF reviews but am sharing a few thoughts since I got a copy for review on NetGalley. Make Up Break Up is the adult debut of well-known YA author Sandhya Menon. The book focuses on two rival app developers, and I struggled to sympathize with adult business owners who spend so much energy sabotaging each other. It was so unprofessional and juvenile! The heroine is on the verge of losing her business, and she was in complete denial + continued to dig herself deeper. The immaturity of people the heroine and hero made me feel like I was reading the worst kind of YA novel. Because I felt like a judgy old lady while reading, I had to put it down. There may be growth by the end, but I couldn't handle anymore.

What have you been reading lately?

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review.

1 comment

  1. The Heiress Gets a Duke is on my TBR, so I'm thrilled to hear that you enjoyed it! I love the premise (and I'm a little obsessed with that cover too), so I can't wait to get around to reading it.


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