2021 Book Challenge Quarter 1: 1-11

2021 Book Challenge

Whoops! A little delayed rounding up my reads from the first quarter of 2021. I just missed being on track by a few pages as I didn’t finish my 12th book until after April! But still a pretty good pace so far!

In case you’re new — every year since 2018 I’ve been challenging myself to read 52 books per year. I used to be a huge bookworm as a kid so much so that I was often re-reading books because I’d run out and I was a regular at Waldenbooks’ buy 4, get the 5th free sales. With the rise of social media through my teen years as well as choosing to major in English in college, my leisurely reading was starting to hit rock bottom. As in… I was lucky if I made it through two books in a year!

Anyway, I thought I’d do something drastic in 2018 and challenge myself to read more. I mix it up with Audible, reading on my Kindle, and a few physical copies of books when possible. In the beginning it was almost all audiobook, but last year and this year I’ve been much more attached to my Kindle, especially as I have the Libby app now so borrowing books is a breeze! I read a lot of random things, though I’ve noticed I definitely am attracted to doomed romances and WWII books and have to make myself stop lol.

Anyway, here’s what I read so far! **Please note sometimes, I have spoilers under the “THOUGHTS” section, so read at your own risk!**

Everything I Read from January – March 2021

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern | 2021 Book Challenge

1. The Starless Sea

  • Author: Erin Morgenstein
  • How I Read: Kindle/Library
  • Category: Fantasy
  • Location: NYC and the starless sea
  • Support Local

QUICK SUMMARY

Zachary Ezra Rawlings is drawn to a mysterious world related to the mythical Starless Sea when he inadvertently picks up and unlisted book at his local library. Soon he finds himself in his own story and trying to find out what exactly he’s gotten himself into.

THOUGHTS

I loved this book. It’s so winding and dreamy and fantastical. I actually wish I had read it with a physical copy because once you start putting the pieces together, you want to go back re-read the “excerpts” from the books mentioned in the story. The writing is poetic and as a review I read said, it feels like a love letter to storytelling!

Not everyone will love this recommendation, I told Autumn to read it and she absolutely hated it, and reviews on Goodreads are pretty polarized, so it really depends on your style!

The Wicked City by Beatriz Williams | 2021 Book Challenge

2. The Wicked City

  • Author: Beatriz Williams
  • How I Read: Kindle/Library
  • Category: 1920s Historical Fiction
  • Location: NYC and Maryland
  • Support Local

QUICK SUMMARY

In the present day of 1998, Ella has just left her cheating husband and moved into a rickety old apartment building in NYC. This same building was once home to a speakeasy where Gin Kelly, a flapper who’s escaped her country roots and creepy stepfather, frequents in the 1920s.

THOUGHTS

Not gonna lie, I’ve been loving Beatriz William’s books but this one didn’t capture me quite as much. Maybe because I’ve never been that interested in the 1920s? I dunno. It’s quite chaotic and there’s at least one more sequel, so soooo many loose ends when you finish. Also the two stories of Ella and Gin don’t really seem to overlap until towards the end, and even then it’s a pretty strenuous tie.

Still it IS a Williams book, and I love her storytelling, so I’m obviously going to read the sequel and I’m a bit invested to see where Gin’s story goes! And given that Ella is Pepper’s daughter, it was nice getting glimpses into how Pepper (Along the Infinite Sea) and Viv (The Secret Life of Violet Grant) are doing in their older age.

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood | 2021 Book Challenge

3. All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

  • Author: Bryn Greenwood
  • How I Read: Kindle/Library
  • Category: Modern Fiction
  • Location: 1980s-90s Oklahoma
  • Support Local / Shop Amazon

QUICK SUMMARY

When eight-year-old Wavy sees 20-something Kellen, one of her druggy father’s thugs, crash his motorcycle one night, everything changes for the two.

THOUGHTS

………..

I genuinely don’t even know what to think of this book. Was it one of the best or one of the worst books I’ve read? I still do not know. One the one hand, the writing is incredibly engaging and this world feels very real in all its ugliness. On the other hand, what the actual flying fuck was this relationship? And why is the ONLY real adult with concerns over pedophilia turned into the villain? Why did Greenwood feel the need to write this book? So many questions. All I can say is no matter how “grown-up” Wavy has to become because of her parents, Kellen should have always known better. Blechhhhhh.

I also made Autumn read this one, and we were like live-messaging each other going “WTF?” as we ready.

Lily of the Nile by Stephanie Dray | 2021 Book Challenge

4. Lily of the Nile

  • Author: Stephanie Dray
  • How I Read: Kindle
  • Category: Roman Empire Historical Fiction
  • Location: Ancient Rome
  • Support Local

QUICK SUMMARY

Cleopatra only had one daughter — Cleopatra Selene. When she commits suicide, ten-year-old Selene, her twin brother Helios, and their little brother Philadelphus find themselves hostages of Octavian Caesar in Ancient Rome. They must not only survive faraway from Egypt, but they must try to understand the gifts of Isis their mother gave them before her death.

THOUGHTS

If you looked at my reading from last year, you’ll know I already read a similar book, Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran. Lily of the Nile covers the same time period of Selene’s life, though Dray has two more books that cover her adult life that I’m eager to read.

I waited to read these because I didn’t want to have the characters from Moran’s version too fresh in my mind. Both Dray and Moran approach the stories pretty differently, and Dray’s has some slightly fantastical elements that Moran’s doesn’t.

The characters in this book are quite different from Moran’s, though some stay the same. Selene is still the level-headed narrator, Livia and Tiberius still just as miserable, and Octavia a new motherly figure, albeit not as warm in this version. Otherwise, Helios is much more hotheaded and mindful of getting back to Egypt, Julia has much more spunk, Marcellus is barely in it, Juba is more passive and not as Mr. Darcy-esque, and Octavian is a lot creepier.

Still Me by Jojo Moyes | 2021 Book Challenge

5. Still Me

  • Author: Jojo Moyes
  • How I Read: Kindle / Libby
  • Category: Modern Fiction
  • Location: NYC + England
  • Support Local

QUICK SUMMARY

It’s time to re-visit Lou Clark! This picks up pretty much right after the second book, After You. Lou’s in NYC to essentially be a professional friend to the very rich Leonard Gopnik’s second wife, Agnes. Despite starting a new romance with Ambulance Sam back in England, she’s ready for the adventure and to finally, finally live her life like she’d promised Will Traynor.

THOUGHTS

Ahhhhhh. I feel like I have such a soft spot for Lou Clark, especially now that I just imagine Emilia Clarke as her when I read the books. I loved Me Before You and found its message of truly living your life really inspiring back when I first read it (now five+ years ago!).

If MBY explored Lou’s absolute stagnation in life and After You dealt with her grief after Will’s death, Still You feels like looking into her finally trying to live life and do what she really wants. I thought it was a cute read, and the ending was sweet. I don’t know that Jojo Moyes intends on more books, but I think this was a good book to end Lou’s story.

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok | 2021 Book Challenge

6. Girl in Translation

  • Author: Jean Kwok
  • How I Read: Kindle / Libby
  • Category: 1980s-90s Fiction
  • Location: NYC
  • Support Local

QUICK SUMMARY

Girl in Translation follows Kimberly Chang as she and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong to Brooklyn during the 1980s/90s. With promises of a better life and more opportunities for Kimberly, her mother listens to her sister and joins her to work at one of her factories in Chinatown. The mythical American Dream turns out to be a nightmare as the Brooklyn apartment is barely livable, the factory work is glorified modern day slavery, and, in general, the two live in absolute poverty. Their only hope is Kim’s intelligence, though she herself struggles with the weight of this knowledge as well as a budding love for an unambitious factory boy.

THOUGHTS

Ahhhhh. Is it Jean Kwok’s aim in life to just break her readers’ hearts with every book?! While I thought Searching for Sylvie Lee was a stronger book, this one was still excellent. The way it throws the curtain back on US sweatshops and examines the Chinese-American immigrant experience is well done, even if the main character seems a little superhuman at times. The love story is so bittersweet that it still bothers me now.

Love Your Life by Sophie Kinsella | 2021 Book Challenge

7. Love Your Life

  • Author: Sophie Kinsella
  • How I Read: Kindle / Libby
  • Category: Modern Fiction
  • Location: Italy & London
  • Support Local

QUICK SUMMARY

Ava is the kind of person who likes a lot of different things. Her latest venture is to be a novelist, so she signs up for a writer’s retreat in Italy where no one can use their real names or reveal anything about themselves. In just a week, she and “Dutch” are madly in love and ready to return to London together. Only real life is more complicated than a fantasy Italian week, and suddenly their baggage-free affair has a lot more baggage.

THOUGHTS

I mean it’s Sophie Kinsella! It’s a super funny, cute read with a ton of mishaps and misunderstandings and the whackiest scenarios. Like in the real world Dutch is the heir to a… dollhouse company? So random!

Song of the Nile by Stephanie Dray | 2021 Book Challenge

8. Song of the Nile

  • Author: Stephanie Dray
  • How I Read: Kindle
  • Category: Roman Empire Historical Fiction
  • Location: Mauretania (modern day Algeria) + Greece
  • Support Local

QUICK SUMMARY

Continuing on from Lily of the Nile, this book follows Selene as she continues her quest to reclaim her throne in Egypt even if it may cost her own soul.

THOUGHTS

Now that I’ve read all three books, I can safely say this one is absolutely bonkers. Like I wanted to scrub my skin when I finished it. I also sometimes couldn’t quite figure out what was going on, but that’s partially on purpose. I’m still confused — is Helios alive or not?

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim | 2021 Book Challenge

9. Miracle Creek

  • Author: Angie Kim
  • How I Read: Audible
  • Category: Modern Fiction
  • Location: Rural Viriginia, USA
  • Support Local

QUICK SUMMARY

Two people are dead after a pressurized oxygen chamber, known as the Miracle Submarine, explodes and someone is to blame. But who?

THOUGHTS

So this book is laid out as a courtroom drama with shifting POVs and flashbacks. You don’t know who’s responsible until the end, of course. While it does have some commentary on immigration to rural Virginia (this time from Seoul), a bigger conversation is related to autism and parents trying “cure” it, which I thought was interesting.

The Island of the Sea Women by Lisa See | 2021 Book Challenge

10. The Island of the Sea Women

  • Author: Lisa See
  • How I Read: Kindle / Libby
  • Category: Korean 1900s Fiction
  • Location: 1900s Korea
  • Support Local

QUICK SUMMARY

On the island of Jeju, there’s an age old tradition of female divers, internationally known as hanyeo. This book follows two best friends, Mi Ja and Young Sook as they grow from baby divers to wives and beyond.

THOUGHTS

Ahhh Lisa See is another one who I just know going in that this isn’t going to be a pleasant read. Jeju is one of my favorite places in the world, but I will admit I’m not super familiar with its history or culture (part of why I wanted to stay there for a month last year). I had never heard of the Jeju uprising until this book, and it was a brutal introduction.

Over all, this book just left me really sad for everyone involved. Let me just say this — if there’s someone you had a falling out with and they’re trying to reach out, no matter how much anger and pain there is, if you once loved them, at least reach back a little to hear them out.

Daughters of the Nile by Stephanie Dray | 2021 Book Challenge

11. Daughters of the Nile

  • Author: Stephanie Dray
  • How I Read: Kindle
  • Category: Roman Empire Historical Fiction
  • Location: Mauretania (present day Algeria), Volubilis (Morocco), Ancient Rome
  • Support Local

QUICK SUMMARY

In the final book about Cleopatra Selene, Selene has given up her desire for Egypt and instead turns her attentions to her kingdom of Mauretania and her husband, Juba. However, the emperor and Ancient Rome are always calling and Octavian’s power over the couple as well as Juba’s loyalty to him continue to remain a threat.

THOUGHTS

Okay, this was by far my favorite of three books, and I was sad when it came to an end. Selene and Juba’s relationship is pretty interesting — from a small crush on Selene’s end in the first book to dislike and distrust in the second book to a strained companionship and eventually love in the final book, it’s an absolute roller coaster. I was pretty mad at Juba all of the second book and a good part of this one lol.

I think this book is also the most interesting as it delves into Selene and Juba’s rule in Mauretania and what they created during their reign. In real life, they created a prosperous nation, so it was cool seeing it all come to life in the book. Don’t skip Dray’s historical notes at the end!

And there you have it! All my reading so far in 2021! I’ve got quite a few books I’m reading at the moment, so hopefully I catch up in Quarter 2 and not leave finishing this challenge for the fall and winter. What have you guys been reading, any recs?

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