It’s somehow mid-January and honestly, I don’t understand how time works. Last week was so long I genuinely thought two weeks had gone by and yet I’m still amazed that we’re already fifteen days into the new year. Every time I make a meal in my instant pot, I’m like, “Wow, I’m doing so great at sticking to my goals!” and then I realize that it’s been like two weeks and my mind is agog. Adulting is tough. To cope, I’ve read a lot of books already this month so let’s get to it. At the end I talk a little about how I’m feeling in regard to my January TBR, but the main resolution for that will be in the final January recap! Oh, and this month I started getting serious about my Instagram for the blog, so if you want, check it out (same name)! You’ll see some of the pictures from it in this post.
1. Luck of the Draw by Kate Clayborn
Sometimes she’d say one thing, and then walk it back, a big mess of jumbled thoughts that wasn’t at all like how she looked. She was brave, figuring out how to live her life, in all this shitty aftermath. Figuring out how to see what was still left around her.
I spent NYE reading the first book on this list and it carried me through the first couple hours of the New Year and I loved it so, so much. As you may have seen, Beginner’s Luck was one of my favorites of 2018 and it just leapt onto the list right there at the end of December. Luck of the Draw might just be better than Beginner’s Luck? I really love the heroine, Zoe, who is a lawyer who feels like she needs to atone for the choices she made as a lawyer. She beats herself up and is afraid to let people in, I think, and kind of reminded me a little of Jasmine from Wanna Bet? by Talia Hibbert, which was another of my favorites from last year. There’s something about heroines like this that speak to my soul right now and I just need to wrap myself in bubble wrap and read all of these books so I can feel like being a bit of a mess will totally work out. Oh, and the hero is pretty great too. Did I even mention that this is a fake relationship trope? Omg, I’m terrible at telling you all about books. Just, trust me on this one and try out this series!
2. Rogue Acts by Molly O’Keefe, Ainsley Booth, Andie J. Christopher, Olivia Dade, Ruby Lang, Stacy Agdern, and Jane Lee Blair
Had she been stalwart and cheerful? Or had that been a performance enacted for the comfort of her oblivious audience?
First of all, this book is worth it for Olivia Dade’s short story, Cover Me alone, but I honestly enjoyed pretty much all of these short stories. This is such a diverse collection of stories, featuring four m/f pairings, one f/f, and one m/m; there is racial diversity; there’s also a story featuring Jewish characters dealing with serious Anti-Semitic sentiments that felt a little too real and also not real enough in light of Pittsburgh; and there’s a story that puts Christianity at the forefront in a way that felt very real to me. These stories are all about resisting and they have a lot to say about remembering to take care of yourself while fighting back at the hatred and bigotry that sometimes feels like it’s too much. The themes of some of the stories sometimes felt too centered in reality and sometimes felt too rushed, but for the most part, I felt that this was a really strong collection and I would recommend it.
I used this book to fulfill the challenge, Keep Being a Badass in the Heaving Bosoms Reading Embrace!
3. The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord
Because as much as I want to be the one crying, I want to be the kind of person someone can hold onto.
I often exaggerate and say I’m crying when I am not, in fact, crying, but I was LITERALLY sobbing reading this book. Like I could barely see the pages toward the end because I was crying so hard. What is fiction, really? My heart felt like it was my own mom with cancer. Lord. I’m emotional just thinking about this book. Anyway, obvious TW there. This book is about Lucy, whose mom’s cancer returns and she finds out on prom night. She’s a PK (preacher’s kid) and the first time she got through this cancer situation with a lot of faith and prayer, but this time, Lucy is angry. And her boyfriend is super unsympathetic to that because he cannot fathom how to deal with her pain in this way. Anyway, he’s a tool. Lucy’s mom tells her she wants her to be a camp counselor at “hippie camp” instead of the church camp she usually helps her parents run. Lucy is resistant, but her mom is persuasive so Lucy goes off to camp at Daybreak and it’s everything. She meets a diverse cast of people, sticks her foot in her mouth more than once, and finds true forgiveness and acceptance, but struggles to cope with a lot of what’s happening at first. I loved this book with my whole heart that it broke into pieces. Anyway, if you think you can read this and if you’re cool with crying, I definitely encourage you to give it a shot!
Also, I used this book in the Growing Pains square for Romanceopoly!
4. From Scratch by Katrina Jackson
This is a polyamorous novella length book featuring a plus size black baker (Mary, she is also black as you can see on the cover), a police officer (Santos, he is bisexual), and a fire chief (Knox, he is pansexual). All three are pretty new to the town, but the police office and fire chief served in the Marines together and became good friends even though the fire chief was the police chief’s sergeant. This book was quite sexy, but it moves super quick. Like, how do you jump into a threesome that quickly? Idk. And I was kind of confused about the emotional connection? But it was a fun read and I enjoyed it! I’m just not sure it’s one that’s going to stick with me.
This was a Romanceopoly pick though!
5. A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole
“That was the thing with people getting past your defenses. They were bound to fuck up, maybe a little, maybe a lot. It was what they did afterward that counted.”
I started listening to this book in audio as a re-read after finally listening to the Heaving Bosoms podcast episode on this title and I was like, “You know, I must have not been in the right mood for this book at the time,” because after listening to the podcast I was like, “How did I give this book only 4 stars?” Well, y’all, I’m really glad I asked myself that question, because, for real, how did I give this book four stars the first time I read it? It’s clearly a five star read. I don’t know what was happening in my life at the time, but maybe it’s a case of I was more tolerant of Thabiso’s reasons for keeping his identity a secret this time. Do you ever re-read books and have a different reaction to them the second (or whatever number) time around?
6. Be Not Afraid by Alyssa Cole
“living with fear and living in fear are two different things”
So January is really just the month of Alyssa Cole because I’ve already read three things from her this month (two novellas and one novel) and I am not upset about it. Of the three, this is definitely my least favorite, not because it isn’t good, but because it’s too short. It starts off with such a bang (literally), but then things move pretty quickly and leave me struggling with the romance. Set during the Revolutionary War, our hero and heroine meet with Kate having just shot the British important soldier and killed him. Kate kind of just lets Elijah take the blame for the murder, but Elijah really starts to win Kate over while he’s a prisoner in the British camp. I thought this novella was an interesting setting and, to me, captures the struggle some black people felt during the Revolutionary War. Did they support the British who promised them freedom (which you know, may or may not have been actually granted)? Or did they fight with the Americans and hope for the best with the founding of our new nation? In school, learning about the Revolutionary War, we never really talked about that particular issue and even in the copious amounts of historical fiction I read as a kid, I don’t recall ever seeing that choice grappled with. So I really enjoyed Be Not Afraid for making me stop and think about it.
7. Herding Cats by Sarah Anderson
I love Sarah Anderson’s comics. I think they’re so cute and fun and I find about fifteen every time that I relate to so hard. They’re available on Hoopla and I definitely would recommend checking all three out if you have time. I did feel like the end of this one had a lot of content that just didn’t really apply to me. It was about pursuing art (like the drawing kind) despite the specific challenges the internet poses. I suppose some of the lessons are generalizable, but mostly I was just skimming through that section hard core.
8. Dark Needs at Night’s Edgeby Kresley Cole
Néomi had never been very interested in Men who Needed Saving.
This is a romance novel with a ghost. If you, like me, are like wtf? and then start replaying that Christmas Spirit or Spirit of Christmas movie in your mind, don’t worry. This is a real, true happily ever after, and oh my goodness, I love Néomi so much. She’s our ghost. Murdered in the 20s (I think) by her asshole ex-fiancé because men have always disliked when women leave them (yes, yes, not all men, don’t at me), Néomi has found herself very, very alone in her afterlife trapped in the home she worked extremely hard to buy and the home she was murdered in. Meanwhile, Conrad’s brothers have kidnapped him and have him chained in Néomi’s home because they’re essentially trying to detox him because drinking blood from the vein of anyone besides your immortal fated mate is bad and now Conrad is a little bit mad. Or, well, kind of a lot. But! Conrad can SEE Néomi! And the book is actually so, so good, and has lots of great commentary that I loved so much.
People think happiness will simply fall into their laps. You have to aspire to it. And sometimes you have to seize it when it’s kicking and screaming.
9. The Refugeesby Viet Thanh Nguyen
This short story collection features stories about Vietnamese and Vietnamese Americans who are or are descended from refugees that came to the United States. I’ve said this many times in a variety of ways, but I tend to struggle with short stories and that was definitely true here where we combined short stories with literary fiction. I think these stories were well written, but not particularly stories I want to read again and again. That said there are so many stories in here that really stand out in my mind that have stuck with me and there are only eight stories! In general, I think each story explores complex relationships between various characters and that was really interesting. As primarily a romance reader, I really struggled with some of the choices various characters made and I still have questions about what was actually going on between the wife and the professor husband in the one story (btw, I listened to this collection and therefore know the names of exactly none of the stories). But overall, I think this collection of short stories was well-written and probably if you like literary fiction, you should give these stories a try.
10. Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole
I told y’all it’s the month of Alyssa Cole! I think I’m going to try to read Let Us Dream this month too so I can just really go all in on Alyssa’s work this month, even though that will then mean I don’t own any more of her works… Ahh, the debate. ANYWAY, Once Ghosted, Twice Shy is the novella we’ve all been waiting for, following my beloved Likotsi. Listen, especially after re-reading A Princess in Theory, my love of Likotsi was at a height I didn’t think it could top. She’s so matter of fact and straight forward with Thabiso and I just adore her. In Once Ghosted, Twice Shy, Likotsi takes center stage and it’s fascinating to watch her and Fab fall in love and figure things out. This is a second chance romance because Fab and Likotsi originally meet during the events of A Princess in Theory, but then Fab ghosts Likotsi and months later they wind up on the same subway that gets stuck. I really loved this novella, even though, as usual, I could have gone for a little more. But, in my defense, am I ever not going to want more of Alyssa Cole’s writing? Also, if you didn’t know, the cover models are dating IRL and isn’t that just the most perfect thing ever?? (Also, I’m regretting not getting the more expensive kindle paperweight for Christmas because this cover is so gorgeous in color–click the link if you haven’t seen it.)
This fulfills the Reading Women challenge to read a novella.
11. The Professional by Kresley Cole
I wasn’t a big fan of women trying to fix men, to change them. I always figured there were guys enough out there, so I should look for a total package that was already fully Ikea-assembled.
So… Kresley Cole has broken me. Seriously, that’s the only explanation I have for why I absolutely loved this book that contains at least 12 things that normally have me about to DNF a book. But holy cow, y’all, this book is so sexy?! Essentially Natalie has been searching for her biological parents since the death of her adopted dad. Well, turns out her bio dad is like, a mob person in the Bratva (thank you Arrow for giving me the background to understand that reference) and the guy Natalie had hired to figure out who her bio dad was like, sold her information to his enemies? Listen, idk, this plot is banana pants, but does that matter? What actually matters is that the sexy Siberian walks in on Natalie masturbating in the bath tub and essentially kidnaps her to Russia for her safety. I MEAN. Literally, nothing about this synopsis would make me want to pick this book up, but um, I loved it.
12. Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
“You know people who love you don’t hurt you like that,” he says, eyes steady on me. “Love’s not supposed to try to kill you.”
I listened and loved this book on audio, so, so much. I didn’t give it a full five stars because there were a couple times I really got pulled out of the story because I felt like Maggie was just being stupid for the sake of the plot (and by stupid I mean, Maggie has deep seated trust issues, but would occasionally just not press on something that clearly mattered), but I love it so much that I think it’s probably still going to wind up on my favorites list of the year. Anyway, let me tell you what this book is about: This is an urban fantasy novel, set after the end of the world for the sixth time, on the Navajo reservation in the West (New Mexico, I think?). The Navajo built a wall that kept them safe from the Big Water, but now there are monsters and a trickster god and a mentor who abandoned Maggie and essentially told her she was evil. Very rude. Anyway, I loved this book so much and I cannot wait for the sequel!!
This book fulfills the Reading Women challenge to read a book by an Indigenous author.
13. Flow by Kennedy Ryan
This is the prequel to Grip, and I picked it up because Bree from Bree Hill on YouTube and falling4romance on Instagram was raving about Grip, specifically, but Flow was free and she said you needed to read it first. I think I can’t make a final judgment on Flow until I’ve read Grip, but y’all, I really hate cliffhangers. I mean, I knew going into this one that it was really just set up, but ouch!! The end of this book hurt. But there are some amazing conversations in this book about race because Grip is black and his best friend’s twin sister, Bristol, is white. I really enjoyed Kennedy Ryan’s writing style and the way she weaves in poetry and music and how her writing style reflects the importance of poetry and music in her character’s lives. So, I’ll definitely be picking Grip up in February because I have to know what happens, you know?
So those are the books I read in the first half of January. It was kind of a lot, but totally worth it. I’ve since completed one more book from my TBR, bringing me to 4/8 (but really seven because I decided to just unhaul The Round House because I actually can’t do it) for books I bought a year ago this month. Unfortunately, I’m only 1/5 of the way through the whole reading books off my pre-2018 TBR… As for purchases… Well, I’ve brought in eight books this month, but Flow was free and so were two of the others, so I’ve only paid for five books this month. I’ve decided I’m counting that as a win. Although that still means no more books for the rest of this month and I really need a way to read Ruin & Rising…
Anyway, how is your month going so far? Have you read any books you already know are going to stick with you? Are you sticking to your reading goals? Let me know!