I thought it would be really fun to make notes on every book I read in 2021. It’s easier than writing book reviews individually, which I almost never find time to do – I can jot down something quick for the book’s Amazon page, but to write a full blog post? Far too much work.
But I love sharing reads! And I devour a decent variety of books. So hey, this might help you find your next book to read.
So, here it is: every book I read in January, 2021!
The Night Watchman, Louise Erdrich
One word: sensational. I’m really glad this was the first book I finished in 2021, because it felt like I was starting off on the right foot. I didn’t know about Louise Erdrich — I’d seen her books but the cover design never resonated with me. Then one night I was playing with some book lists and read the blurb for this one. Mid 20th century, Native Americans trying to preserve their tribal status when the government is trying to strip it, a huge cast of characters. Somehow I just knew it was going to be an amazing read.
And it was! The Night Watchman is beautifully written. Erdrich’s style of short chapters featuring the POV of many diverse characters allows readers to go on a real journey. She has a real sensibility about the way words go together, too. “The Chippewa Scholar” is one of my favorite things about this book: not just the character, who is great, but the fact that the tribe calls her this, and the way the words roll off the tongue. The “waterjack” was another fascinating, almost totem-like word.
I highly recommend The Night Watchman and I’m looking forward to digging into Erdrich’s backlist.
Christmasland, Anne-Marie Meyer
I picked this one up for free because I liked the concept – a small New England town transforms itself into a Christmas village every year, but not in a fairy-tale, Dickensian fashion. Oh no, this town goes full Hallmark. Obviously themed entertainment is a huge deal to me, so I wanted to explore that concept.
Well, honestly, this book doesn’t talk much about the nuts and bolts of a town transforming itself for Christmas. It’s a rom-com and the entire focus is on the relationship growing between the son of a town resident and a curmudgeonly Christmas-hater who has gone there on holiday with her best friend. You have to like Hallmark movies to like this book. If you do, give it a read!
The Four Winds, Kristin Hannah
I read this as an ARC from NetGalley. The Four Winds is coming out later this year. If you’ve read The Great Alone or The Nightingale, you know Hannah’s trademark is big, sweeping, heavily-researched novels featuring women who have to make incredibly hard choices, generally again and again and again and again. I’ve read both of those novels and heartily recommend them, without hesitation.
In fact, I’d really like to read The Great Alone again — I find Alaska fascinating, and the idea of survivalists going there and literally farm, fish, and hunt like mad for four months a year so they can hunker down for the other eight, just trying not to freeze, is absolutely wild to me.
The Four Winds was a must-read for me because the Dust Bowl is another one of those wild periods of history which is really misunderstood, and there’s a lack of accessible literary fiction around it. This is a mother’s story as she tries to hold together the family she was so desperate to have in the first place.
The first third of this book held me riveted as it described life on the Texas plains during the Dust Bowl. Just gutting. The second third of this book held me riveted as it described the plight of the Okie. Heading west in hopes of work, finding racism and prejudice and armed police at the borders of American states, keeping out other Americans — well, that really will make anyone pause and have a good think about this country’s recent history.
The last third of this book hits some really strong themes. Ultimately, I think Hannah missed the mark with the ending, but with that caveat, it’s still a very worthy read and you should grab it as soon as you can.
Coming Home to the Loch, Hannah Ellis
This contemporary romance is set between a village on the Isle of Skye and Edinburgh. I picked it up for free and then found it was on Kindle Unlimited, so I read it that way instead, so the author got paid a little bit. I read it quickly, liked the characters, loved the settings, laughed out loud a good deal. A nice bit of escapism, great for before bed, so if you have KU, a good bet. I started reading the next one, The Castle by the Loch, but I haven’t finished it yet.
Starting Over in Maple Bay, Brittney Joy
Brittney Joy’s equestrian saga, Red Rock Ranch, has been around for years and she has dabbled in fantasy as well, but this is her first contemporary romance! Small town romance often has some distinct geographic sub-genres, and this one is in the Great Lakes category, but instead of being set amongst a little vacation town, like they usually are, it’s set on a lovely horse farm.
This book is gentle and soft-hearted, offering readers an escape to a place with friendly neighbors, kind families, big Sunday dinners, and fun at the annual town rodeo. The writing is lovely, and all in all, this is an excellent romance for when you don’t want your blood pressure raised, just a nice relaxing read.
Rise and Shine, Anna Quindlen
Last year I read Alternate Side, the first book I’d read by veteran women’s fiction writer Anna Quindlen, and I was simply blown away by how much I loved it. Quindlen seems to understand New York City much as I do, and the street in this book was actually a lot like my first block when I moved to the city in 2004. The entire concept of the book, looking at class and race from the eyes of a rather tired liberal woman who has done well for herself in the last generation that could buy a brownstone for a song and fix it up, worked on every level.
In contrast Rise and Shine is not generally lauded as her best, but I think the first 2/3 of this book are really excellent. I doubt its reviews were helped by making the heroine a social worker who rides her rich sister’s coattails to all the best dinners in town — there’s something about that “my best friend is rich so I am rich by association” trope that’s a little tired. That being said, the characters are interesting, the settings are very real, and the heroine actually lives on my first block, which is kind of hilarious (to me). I liked it; I thought the resolution was weak, but overall it was a good book, and Tequila is a great sidekick.
How to Judge a Book By Its Lover, Jessica Jiji
This was a total surprise. I picked this one up free, although I had serious misgivings about it based on the cover — the irony!! Seriously, though, it’s not a very good cover. But it turned out to have a great story, a great understanding of New York settings, and a lot of fun.
The heroine is desperate to escape her Long Island background by making it in Manhattan, but things are not panning out for her. When she finally gets rolling thanks to a shove from a benevolent alumnae from her alma mater, she immediately takes risks only a rich woman should take. This is what happens when you get your advice from a rich woman.
It’s not always a romance, but the ending is decidedly contemporary romance. Still, a good KU escape read.
Comet in Summer, Grace Wilkinson
There are so many things to love about this novel. The setting, the hilarious family, the dry observations of the heroine. Wilkinson has put together a kind of hybrid horse novel here, with the dynamics of National Velvet — the huge family really gave me Brown vibes — but none of the heroic drive Velvet shows. Instead, her heroine really just wants to enjoy her horse.
At times, this book is so character-driven as it follows Rio’s personal growth, I wondered where it was going. Then I realized I was getting used to the plot devices that drive so many equestrian novels forward — the need to acquire the horse, the need to win the show, the need to save the farm — that it had been a while since I’d looked at a horse plot from the perspective of a young woman who is just trying to understand her place in a very strange world … the horse world!
That’s what makes the book so lovely, and that evocative title makes sense: it’s about the most simple joy of all, a horse-filled summer.
Adored. Top pick. READ IT. Yes, it’s in Kindle Unlimited!
Bridal Boot Camp, Meg Cabot
This was the most disappointing thing I’ve read in ages. I’m only including it because I said every book I read in January. There’s such a thing as a novella to get readers interested in a series. And then there’s whatever this is: a handful of chapters with set-up, character building, setting description, a catalyst moment — and then it just ends. It simply stops being. Who on earth thought it would be a good idea to publish the first third of a book and call it a day?
And it’s not like this is a tease of a book. It’s a tease of the Little Bridge Series, which at the moment is two books, both of them great, but neither of them featuring the romance that is set up in this short. I can’t comprehend why this exists, and I’m super mad about it.
(That being said, No Offense and No Judgments are actual Little Bridge romance novels, set in the Keys, and they’re super fun. Meg Cabot has lived in the Keys for a while and she gets Floridian life, especially the cavalier attitude towards hurricanes.)
Well, that’s my list! I found this really satisfying to write, and I hope you’ve found some interesting books to read!
Now, it’s your turn! What did you read that belongs on everyone’s list? Comment away!