I’m trying out a new thing this year — monthly roundups, but of books. I decided to post these mini-reviews because I’d like to keep track of my reviews on my website and not just on Goodreads. Plus, I think readers who are neither on Goodreads nor Instagram would appreciate these quick reviews here. And who can say no to more book recommendations?
What I Read in January
This past month, I read a good mix of children’s literature, adult fiction, and adult non-fiction.
When the Truth Unravels
Published: January 8, 2019
RuthAnne Snow’s debut novel begins on the evening of Jenna, Elin, Ket, and Rosie’s prom. Readers immediately learn that Elin recently tried to kill herself. After some time in a treatment facility, and prescription meds, Elin’s parents want things to return to normal and pretend she never attempted suicide. Her friends keep her secret and plan for the best prom ever to convince Elin to keep living. Things are going well until midway through prom, Elin disappears.
The story is told in rotating POVs as each girl deals with Elin’s disappearance and all four friends band together to find her. Elin’s POV switches between past and present to show readers why she tried to kill herself. As the truth unravels, one thing is clear: nothing is as it seems with these girls. Author RuthAnne Snow shows that the way a person presents him or herself to the world isn’t always the truth of who they are.
To the public, Ket is the scandalous, sexualized friend; Elin, the mysterious one; Jenna, the perfect overachiever; and Rosie, the socially-inept bookworm. Readers will find, as happens in real life, that these girls have more bubbling under the surface.
A Dolphin Named Star
Published: February 1, 2019
Seaside Sanctuary is supposed to be a safe place for marine animals, but suddenly dolphins are getting sick and no one can explain why. Since Elsa Roth spends all of her time at the sanctuary, a perk of her parents’ jobs there, she’s well acquainted with all the animals. Elsa is especially worried about Star, a young dolphin she bonded with after seeing him in his wild pen. When the crisis intensifies, it’s up to Elsa to get to solve the mystery before it’s too late for Star and the rest of the dolphins.
Read this in one sitting! — cute early middle-grade book about dolphins and caring for the environment. Early readers will find the mystery in this one satisfying!
Published: April 2, 2019
When Mayumi was born, her grandfather created a garden for her. It was unlike any other garden she knew. It had no flowers or vegetables. Instead, Ojiichan made it out of stones: ?big ones, little ones, and ones in-between.? Every summer, Mayumi visits her grandfather in Japan, and they tend the garden together. Raking the gravel is her favorite part. Afterward, the two of them sit on a bench and enjoy the results of their efforts in happy silence. But then one summer, everything changes. Ojiichan has grown too old to care for his home and the garden. He has to move. Will Mayumi find a way to keep the memory of the garden alive for both of them?
A unique picture book about nature, life changes, and perseverance.
Death by Dumpling
Published: March 27, 2018
The last place Lana Lee thought she would ever end up is back at her family’s restaurant. But after a brutal break-up and a dramatic workplace walk-out, she figures that a return to the Cleveland area to help wait tables is her best option for putting her life back together. Even if that means having to put up with her mother, who is dead-set on finding her a husband.
Lana’s love life soon becomes yesterday’s news once the restaurant’s property manager, Mr. Feng, turns up dead―after a delivery of shrimp dumplings from Ho-Lee.
A perfect Hallmark style mystery (does Hallmark do mysteries?). I loved everything about this one. Pacing, characters, mystery. I’m ready to dive into book two! If you’re looking for a cozy mystery with humor, friendships, and a smidge of romance, this is excellent.
Fish in a Tree
Published: February 5, 2015
Ally has been smart enough to fool a lot of smart people. Every time she lands in a new school, she is able to hide her inability to read by creating clever yet disruptive distractions. She is afraid to ask for help; after all, how can you cure dumb? However, her newest teacher Mr. Daniels sees the bright, creative kid underneath the trouble maker. With his help, Ally learns not to be so hard on herself and that dyslexia is nothing to be ashamed of. As her confidence grows, Ally feels free to be herself and the world starts opening up with possibilities. She discovers that there’s a lot more to her—and to everyone—than a label, and that great minds don’t always think alike.
One of the most moving books I’ve read in a long time. FISH IN A TREE addresses the issues of a young girl with dyslexia and highlights the importance of teachers who truly care. Excellent writing and characterization + great audiobook narration. Would recommend.
Related: 7 Books Like Fish in a Tree
Where the Crawdad’s Sing
Published: August 14, 2018
For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens.
I don’t know what Delia Owens did to make this book so achingly beautiful. I think it’s the ode to nature and an incredibly resilient protagonist. But it’s also Tate’s fierce, enduring love. I don’t know. I’ve never read nature so lovingly described, and so much pain and loneliness in one person’s life.
ALSO, the audiobook is FANTASTIC. The narrator is extraordinary, and this book may not have come alive to me as much had I read the words myself. I am forever changed and will never view nature the same.
The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise
Published: January 8, 2019
That’s how long Coyote and her dad, Rodeo, have lived on the road in an old school bus, crisscrossing the nation.
It’s also how long ago Coyote lost her mom and two sisters in a car crash.
Coyote hasn’t been home in all that time, but when she learns that the park in her old neighborhood is being demolished—the very same park where she, her mom, and her sisters buried a treasured memory box—she devises an elaborate plan to get her dad to drive 3,600 miles back to Washington state in four days…without him realizing it.
Along the way, they’ll pick up a strange crew of misfit travelers. Lester has a lady love to meet. Salvador and his mom are looking to start over. Val needs a safe place to be herself. And then there’s Gladys…
Over the course of thousands of miles, Coyote will learn that going home can sometimes be the hardest journey of all…but that with friends by her side, she just might be able to turn her “once upon a time” into a “happily ever after.”
This book in incredible. With one of the most remarkable (no pun intended) protagonists I’ve read in a while, TRJOCS handles dying, grief, and family excellently. It’s one of those books that brings your heart joy even while it’s breaking it.
Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen/ Anna, Banana, and the Friendship Split/ Juana and Lucas: Big Problemas
Loved these chapter books and reviewed them here.
The Boy in the Black Suit
Published: January 6, 2015
My first book by Jason Reynolds — I loved it! Matt is a teenager dealing with the loss of his mother to breast cancer and his father’s relapse into alcoholism. He begins working as a funeral home attendant and finds himself attending strangers’ funerals as a way to cope with his grief.
My favorite things about this book are Matt’s vulnerability, his friendship with Chris, Lovey (as a character), and all the wonderful subplots, from his parents’ history to Mr. Ray’s.
Jason Reynolds is undoubtedly a gifted writer, and I’ve bought two books in his Ghost series as proof of my conviction.
On Writing Well
Published: September 11, 2012
William Zinsser has changed my writing more than anything else I’ve learned in the last ten years has. I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone looking to improve their writing — especially non-fiction. I still hear his advice whenever I write, and I’ll probably never begin a sentence with “however” again.
After the Fall
Published: October 3, 2017
Everyone knows that when Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. But what happened after?
This book is a delightful surprise! It’s hard to be surprised by picture books, especially one so short, but this one is incredible.
Published: October 30, 2018
This is a great story with many important themes — being biracial, coping with parental divorce and remarriage, being black in America, classical music, family — and I would recommend this book to anyone interested in those themes.
Just one thing: Don’t do the audio. It’s narrated by the author, and her voice acting skills did not do the book justice. Unfortunately, the “voice” of the protagonist is forever ruined for me.
Greetings From Witness Protection
Published: October 3, 2017
Nicki Demere is an orphan and a pickpocket. She also happens to be the U.S. Marshals’ best bet to keep a family alive. . . .
The marshals are looking for the perfect girl to join a mother, father, and son on the run from the nation’s most notorious criminals. After all, the bad guys are searching for a family with one kid, not two, and adding a streetwise girl who knows a little something about hiding things may be just what the marshals need.
I LOVE this book! I couldn’t put it down, and it had me on the edge of my seat so many times. The fact that the main character has kleptomania, the whole witness protection plot, and a genuinely interesting protagonist (among many other things) make this story enjoyable. 10/10 would recommend.
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I’m looking forward to reading many great books in February. My favorites this month were Where the Crawdads Sing, Coyote Sunrise, After the Fall, Greetings From Witness Protection, and Fish in a Tree.
What did you read (and love) this month? Anything. I’d love to know!