• The Fiction Fox

January 2021 Wrap-Up

2021 is off to quite a good start reading-wise, with 11 books read in the month of January. One of my goals of the year was to upload my wrap-ups more consistently, which means shortening them a bit to keep this feasible. For some of these books, a full review will be posted at a later time, but for now, let’s get into my first thoughts and ratings on the books I read in January 2021. Nr. of books read: 11 Pagecount: 4062 Average Rating: 3.45 stars


Middle-grade


1. Amari and the Nightbrothers – BB Alston

Starting off with perhaps the best book I’ve read this month: Amari and the Nightbrothers exceeded my expectations from start to finish. Every single year, like clockwork, a new middle-grade fantasy with magical themes is released, and immediately promoted to be “the new Harry Potter”. My response is always the same: a deep sigh and an exaggerated eyeroll to the offending publisher. This time however, was different. For the first time in my reviewing career, I’m going to call that comparison valid. Now, please hold on to your chairs, for not only am I going to say “If you liked Harry Potter, you will like Amari and the Night Brothers”, I’m going to take it one step further. I genuinely think this book is better… In short: it gave me many of the same vibes, with the addition of being diverse, more modern and having a far more important message to tell about diversity, prejudice and belonging. I’m planning on writing a full review soon, but for now let me just say that I’ll be highly disappointed if this doesn’t become a modern classic in childrens literature. Rating: 5/5 stars

2. Root Magic – Eden Royce

Sticking with the theme of middle-grade novels by black voices: we have Root Magic. The story follows Jez and Jay: twins who have just lost their Grandma. Her death introduces them to a family tradition of practicing the art of rootwork: a type of magic that protects them from legendary spirits from Gullah folktales. With their introduction to a new mixed school, Jez and Jay soon find out they have to protect themselves and each other from more than just haints and boo hags; but the dangers of racial prejudice and discrimination as well. This story is truly one of the more powerful middle grade novels I’ve read, introducing many dark but important topic from history into an understandable narrative for children. Most importantly: it does all that without sounding preachy, or glorifying (or worse fetishizing) the involved cultures. The characters are wonderful and strong, the atmosphere is vivid and the tone perfectly matches the audience. My only critique would be that this book packs so much in 350 pages, that it borders on becoming too much, and feeling rushed at times. Please don’t let that deter you however, as I think this again deserves to be read by as many people as possible. Middle-grade is on a phenomenal roll lately, not underestimating its audience and bringing education and entertainment together in the best way possible. Due to the subject matter this was a hard book to read at times, and I think it will make for a perfect book to read together and discuss with a parent or caregiver. I love books that open that opportunity, so I’m hoping many people will grasp it with both hands. Rating 4.5/5 stars



YA


3. When the Sky fell on Splendor – Emily Henry

I picked this up at a used-book-sale for quite cheap, without many background knowledge or expectations. It seemed like a fun and whimsical story with some X-files/Stranger Things vibes, about a group of teens encountering a mysterious extra-terrestrial phenomenon, and the aftermath of this event. Although I wasn’t expecting anything mind-blowing, I hoped that this would make for a perfect “in-between-book”. Unfortunately, I soon lost interest in it. Instead of the fast pace adventure I was expecting, I found it dragging and quite disjointed from beginning to end. I didn’t connect to any of the characters and struggled to even tell them apart at times, and the story didn’t seem to know the direction it wanted to go in. That final fact was sort of confirmed by the ending which was just very disappointing to me. Overall: some fun ideas, but not a book I’d recommend. Rating: 2/5 stars



4. This is Not a Ghost Story – Andrea Portes

Yes, I fell for it again: a stunning cover, the comparison to some classic haunted house stories, and the promise of “haunting-meets-personal-trauma”… This stuff is my catnip and I am powerless to resist. In This is Not a Ghost Story, we follow 17-year-old Daffodil (thank God the book is written in first person though), who takes an almost too-good-to-be-true housesitting job over the summer before college. As the summer progresses and the days shorten, she’s forced to confront the secrets of the house, as well as her own repressed past. Honestly, this was just okay: nothing more, nothing less. The story is very predictable if you’re familiar with this genre, and I’m afraid that for me it’ll be a bit forgettable in the long run. That being said, I enjoyed Daffodils humorous narrative voice and it was gripping enough for me to almost finish it in a single sitting. Perhaps if this is your first entrée into the psychological haunted house genre, you may enjoy this more than I did. For me it was enjoyable enough, but a bit too generic to stand out. Rating: 3/5 stars

5. When the Moon was Ours – Anna-Marie McLemore

My very first book of the year is one I’ve posted in depth thoughts about already, so I won’t go into too much depth here. When the Moon Was Ours is a beautiful piece of magical realism covering themes of gender-identity, prejudice, first love and much more. It’s an absolutely masterfully written novel that feels unlike anything I’ve read before. Highly recommended. My full review can be found here. Rating: 4/5 stars






6. Bone Gap – Laura Ruby

Continuing in the magical realism genre, we have Bone Gap. This is a book I’m not completely sure about how to review it, as it feels so completely unique and unlike anything I’ve read before. Part fabulism, part realism, veined with subtle inspiration of (Greek) mythology and folktales. We follow two brothers, Sean and Finn O’Sullivan, on their search for Roza, the beautiful and mysterious girl who used to live with them in the small town of Bone Gap. As mysteriously as Roza entered their lives one day, she disappears again another. All the town-folk are convinced: she was a free spirit who left on her own accord. But only Finn knows the truth: Roza didn’t leave, she was kidnapped. Kidnapped by a man whose face Finn cannot remember. And nobody in Bone Gap believes him, not even his own brother. Many of the aspects in Bone Gap would be a bit too on the nose for my liking in the hands of a less talented author, but Laura Ruby performs a phenomenal balancing act to keep that from happening. The result is a slightly mysterious and highly memorable novel, with a lot more under the surface than immediately meets the eye. I highly recommend it to all fans of this genre. Rating: 4/5 stars

Adult

7. The Ten Thousand Doors of January – Alix E. Harrow

The Ten Thousand Doors of January is a historical portal fantasy, following a teenage girl who, in the depth of her grief for her deceased father, discovers her ability to travel to different worlds using books. I’m keeping my thoughts on it short, as I’ve already posted a full review, which can be found here. I can see how many people adored this story, but I personally wanted a bit more than I ultimately got. That being said, I don’t have the best track record with portal fantasies anyway, so perhaps you shouldn’t take my word for it… Rating: 3/5 stars

8. Augustus – John Williams


Despite me rating it 3 stars, Augustus was my biggest disappointment of the month. I read this on recommendation of my dad, who absolutely loved it and knows I enjoy these Greek retellings. Based on his description and the description he gave me, I pegged it as a 5-star prediction. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for me. As the title implies: Augustus follows the live of the first Roman emperor Augustus, told in a epistolary format by the talented John Williams. This format was a deliberate and smart choice by the author, as it mirrors the texts of the time period that were preserved. These exact texts (mainly the letters by Cicero) were my graduation subject in grammar school, so I’m quite familiar with their style and was interested to see how Williams would adapt that. In one word: brilliant. Although all these letters are completely fictitious, the style and tone are spot on and I’d almost go as far as saying that these translations are near indistinguishable from the real deal. It’s an incredible display of skill on the authors part, but maybe also part of the downfall of the book for me. After the initial awe I felt for this talent, it soon lost it’s charm for me. Not only did I feel like I was back in high school, working hard to slog my way through these text, I also felt it was the one party-trick this book relied on too heavily. Yes, it’s good, but it’s not good enough to carry the entire 400 page book. Perhaps if you aren’t yet familiar with Augustus’ story, this book will hold your interest easier, but for me it felt too much like revisiting my high-school homework. Based on my enjoyment, this would have been a 2-star book, but based on the sheer skill of the narrative voice, I’m upping that rating to 3 stars. Rating: 3/5 stars

9. A House at the Bottom of a Lake – Josh Malerman


Josh Malerman is most well-known for his thriller Birdbox, which was adapted into a Netflix original last year, and I frankly haven’t figured out what I think of his writing so far. I enjoyed Birdbox, hated Malory and basically haven’t had any interest in any of his other works but one: A House at the Bottom of a Lake. With its interesting title and premise, this story has always had a mysterious alure to me, but since it’s been out of print for quite some time, it took me until now to get the chance read it. The premise is simple: two teenagers decide to go canoeing on a forgotten lake for their first date, when they spot something mysterious under the water level: a house. Fully furnished, fully intact and without a sign of how it got there. As they return day after day with diving gear to explore, they find out there may be more to the house than meets the eye. This story is as weird as its premise, and even after finishing it I’m not quite sure how I feel about it. The metaphor it chose was well executed, and it was a quick read that kept me engaged. I think I was just expecting a different one, and expected it to be creepier than it was to me. Overall it didn’t really impact me too much, even though I think the story in itself was well written. Rating: 3.5/5 stars

10. Bloody Rose – Nicholas Eames

Bloody Rose is the second book in the Band series, the first of which made it into my top 5 of the year for 2020, so I was appropriately excited. It didn’t disappoint in the slightest. Bloody Rose follows Tam Hashford, a local pubmaid who dreams of becoming a bard for one of the famous bands. She gets her chance when Fable, lead by Golden Gabe’s daughter Bloody Rose, visits town looking for one. What follows is a wyld adventure, equal to that in Kings of the Wyld, only now lead by a fully female crew. Without spoiling anything about the first book: I loved this book equally as much as that one. The same atmosphere and adventure interspliced with genuinely funny humour were present here, and seeing some of the familiar characters return was a joy. The biggest difference between these books is that Bloody Rose may have a little bit less carefree fun, and a little bit more heart to it. Where Kings of the Wyld already did a great job of that, the ending of Bloody Rose actually hit me in the feelings more than I was expecting: a testament to my investment in the story and these characters. I will be eagerly awaiting Outlaw Empire, which is expected to be released in 2022, and hoping for the return of some of these characters that I’ve grown to love so much. Rating: 5/5 stars

11. The Lies of Locke Lamora – Scott Lynch

Last but not least, we come to my favourite adult book of the month, and it’s been a long time coming. I picked The Lies of Locke Lamora up years ago, when I was arguable way to young for this story, and my English wasn’t up to the task yet. Ever since I’ve been intimidated to give it a second chance, just because it had cemented itself as a “dense book” in my 13-year-old brain. I couldn’t have been more wrong and I’m so glad that I finally took the step to rectify that thought. The Lies of Locke Lamora is a fantasy-fan-favourite for many a good reason, and I doubt it needs much introduction. An impossible heist, against the background of a Venetian-inspired Island city featuring a tightknit group of gentlemen-thieves and con-artists. Here’s a short list of all the reasons you should read this: - a fantastic lovable cast of characters. If you love a good friendship story: this is one you shouldn’t miss. - a plot that keeps you on your toes from start to finish. - one of the most vivid settings and worlds I’ve encountered in a long time - the absolute skill of Scott Lynch at writing tense action scenes, hilarious hijinks, but also top notch banter between characters. Rating: 4.5/5 stars

That concludes my first wrap up for 2021. As for February, I have kept my TBR short with only one book I want to read; that being Red Seas under Red Skies, as I can’t wait to continue The Gentleman Bastard series at this point. Anything else I read will depend on my mood and the time I have as it’s promising to be a busy month again. Stay safe and until next time: happy reading.

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