Episode 41: Laura's January 2021 Reading

Coming to you a bit early (due to an exciting episode next week) is Laura's January 2021 reading. Today there's lots of enthusiasm about middle grade books and mysteries...starting out with lots of comfort reading this year I guess. Several really great diverse books are on this episode, too. 

Books mentioned on this episode (affiliate link) 

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Reading Challenges & Book Clubs

The Unread Shelf Challenge - January 2021 prompt was "a book with high expectations" and for this I chose Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson.  The sources of my high expectations were the many awards it has received, it's beautiful cover, and the good things I've heard from many fellow readers.  

The Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge 2021 (#mmdchallenge) I'm not really choosing monthly books for this challenge, but rather an overall approach to reading thanks to the reflection questions Anne offered to start the year. I decided that what I want from my reading life is enthusiasm, learning, and community. My reading life needs: to keep up my reading journal, enjoy reading middle grade books, and for me to keep reading books I own plus using the library.  My specific book goals include to read one or more Jane Austen novels, and the Newbery Medal winner. I'll be keeping all this in mind as I choose books this year. 

Kerry @LinesIUnderline on Instagram is doing a #hyggedunit (sounds like who-ga done it) cozy mystery book club. Her January pick was Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie, which is the first Miss Marple Mystery. 

Laura's January 2021 Reading 

 Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie - I enjoyed this cozy murder mystery set in a small town that kept me guessing. I think I expected that Christie would be more difficult to read, but was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it and how quickly I finished it. Thanks to Kerry @LinesIUnderline for the great recommendation. I'm already looking forward to February's book choice. 

Go with the Flow by Lily Williams - Recommended by Kris @noextrawords on her podcast episode. It's a graphic novel about a group of high school friends. They join together to advocate for period products to be available and free in their high school bathrooms, and for period awareness and equality. It's a fun friendship story with stigma-defying information about periods. After all, nearly 50% of the population has periods, but we talk about them very little. 

Trickery School (Casey Grimes #2) by AJ Vanderhorst - I was delighted to receive a copy of Trickery School from AJ as I read and reviewed the first Casey Grimes book last year. It's a fantastic sequel. Casey becomes the center of the tensions surrounding magic at the Trickery School, and things quickly get dangerous and exciting. He must join forces with his new friends and figure out who to trust before it's too late. 

The Trials of Morrigan Crow (Nevermoor #1) by Jessica Townsend - Eden (@ponchospages) can't stop talking about how good this series is. I enjoyed the first book of this middle grade fantasy series about a cursed child who gets transported to a secret magical city called Nevermoor, where she is to compete in a series of trials for membership in the exclusive Wundrous Society. 

I Can Make this Promise by Christine Day - This was another @noextrawords recommendation, and one of her favorite books of 2020. It's the story of a young Native American girl who starts to discover more about her family history. I learned a lot of history from this sweet family story. It's sad but heartwarming and beautiful. Pairs well with Fry Bread (below).  

Absolutely Truly by Heather Vogel - I pulled this book off my unread shelf on a cold, snowy January day because of it's perfectly atmospheric cover. I wanted to love this book more than I did. It's supposed to be a mystery, but the mysterious storyline didn't kick in until after 100 pages, and got rather sidelined by some of the other action in the book. So I didn't find that element compelling. It had a lot of good pieces, maybe too many pieces for one story.... An unusually tall girl must navigate a new school after her family moves. Her dad is getting used to his new prosthetic after getting injured in Afghanistan and is probably dealing with PTSD. The family runs a bookstore (which is one of my favorite parts of this stories for obvious reasons). And then there's the mystery of a series of notes and clues that starts with a first edition of Charlotte's Web. What secret could be hidden in these cryptic notes? 

The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez - I am possibly the least punk-y person ever, so this book was an education for me. Ha! Malú has to move with her mom to an new city. She feels the tension between her hispanic heritage which her mom fully embraces (she calls her SuperMexican), and her desire to be punk. Malú enjoys creating zines, which was one of my favorite parts of this book! They are actually included as illustrations and part of the story. Her parents are divorced, but they are amicable in their co-parenting, which was refreshing.  

The Whispered Word by Ellery Adams - I really enjoyed The Secret, Book, and Scone Society when I read it last year. This is the second book in that series and it was fun to re-visit the community in the sequel. The fourth book comes out very soon, so I'm motivated to read the rest of the series. A group of women in a small town join forces to solve another mystery. One is a bookshop owner with a talent for picking therapeutic books, one is a baker with the ability to evoke emotions through her scones, one is a skilled hairstylist and rather seductive, and one works at the local healing spa. In this second book, a mysterious young woman appears in town, and soon after an old woman dies in what may or may not have been a suicide. Is there a connection? What's going on in Miracle Springs? (content/trigger warning for abuse, loss of family member, and discussion of suicide)

Ways to Make Sunshine by Renée Watson - was delightful ☀️ It’s a cute family story with an awesome young girl, Ryan, finding her way in the world. Whether she’s figuring out l what her talent is for the talent show, moving to a different rental home, learning to cook, or being confident in her natural hair, she must learn that her kindness, confidence and creativity are what matters most. It’s short and sweet. No wonder so many of my #bookstagram and #middlegrade buddies have enjoyed this one.

Wesley Yorstead Goes Outside by Stephanie Harper - stay tuned for a future podcast episode with Stephanie! She reached out to me and asked me to read & review her novel. It's the story of Wesley Yorstead, who hasn't left his home in 5 years due to mental illness (agoraphobia and panic attacks, for example). When a young woman named Happy starts delivering his groceries, it begins to turn his carefully curated existence upside down. This book reminded me a bit of A Man Called Ove in terms of there being a man who would rather remain isolated and a woman who is kindly pushy and intent on getting him out of his shell. The story starts out slow but picks up pace at the end. I accidentally stayed up way too late finishing this book one night because I just couldn't stop reading the ending.  (content/trigger warning: anxiety & mental illness, abuse, sex trafficking) 

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson - I am so glad I finally read this book. I used to think I didn’t like poetry, but that’s before I read novels in verse. I love the way the words flow like a song, with strong images and feelings woven through. Woodson’s story of growing up as a black girl during the 60’s and 70’s is not an easy one, but tenderly told. Her search for home and belonging and her discovery of the power of words resonated with me.

March: Book Two and March: Book Three by John Lewis - Book Two continues the story of Congressman John Lewis and tells of the Freedom Riders riding buses through the Deep South to the March on Washington in 1963. Book Three concludes the series with the events of Selma, Johnson's presidency, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I am so glad I read this series, as it sheds a different light on the historical events surrounding the early Civil Rights Movement. I wanted to keep on reading more even after it was over. My heart is grieved at the high price that was paid for freedom. These events are so recent yet seem so long ago. They are also a contrast with the events in Washington this January. It’s easy to get caught up in the present and lose the perspective that history gives us. (content warning: violence, racism, profanity) 

Kissed a Sad Goodbye by Deborah Crombie - I’ve been slowly making my way through the Duncan Kincaid & Gemma James series by @deborah.crombie. It’s all @theunreadshelf’s fault that I’m interested in this series. I was excited to reach book 6 in the series because I own a copy thanks to Whitney. This mystery was particularly interesting to me as it included the heiress of a large family tea company. It also was written with flashbacks to WWII when the British children were evacuated to the countryside. (content warning: assault, infidelity, murder)

A Game of Fox & Squirrels by Jenn Reese - The moment I saw this cover on the Heavy Metal Mock Newbery blog, I wanted to read this story. It's a really fascinating mix of realistic fiction with magical realism and fantasy elements, all coming together to tell the story of a young girl and her sister who are taken out of their abusive home by social services. When a card game involving foxes and squirrels magically comes to life, Sam will learn more about the cycle of abuse and how to escape it. I was genuinely worried while reading this book! But Reese is brilliant for using the allegory of a game with ever-changing rules to illustrate an abusive relationship, and offers so much hope through this story. I don't think this book would be the right one for some young readers, but for others it might be the key to understanding and hope in a dark situation. Wow. (Content warning: child abuse, domestic abuse) 

Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park - I read and enjoyed Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park. It was a well-told story and I loved the diversity that Park worked so hard to represent. She dedicated the book “To all those whose stories have been erased or silenced in the past: May your stories sing and shape and color the future.”  I grew up loving prairie stories and historical fiction in general. I mean, my name is Laura, of course we read Little House. I couldn’t find the exact photo from my childhood that I was looking for, but you can swipe to see me in some 1860’s fashion, then visiting colonial Williamsburg (in my Kirsten Larsen prairie dress but adapted with a mob cap). I am privileged that it was easy for me to imagine myself in these different types of history. It’s not that easy for everyone! Park explained that she grew up as a Midwestern girl loving the Little House on the Prairie series. But Park is also an Asian American who had to do some “serious mental gymnastics” to see people like herself in prairie stories, and many of these series contain subtle or blatant racism. About writing Prairie Lotus, she said “Prairie Lotus is a story I have been writing nearly all my life. It is an attempt to reconcile my childhood love of the Little House books with my adult knowledge of their painful shortcomings. My wish is that this book will provide food for thought for all who read it, especially the young readers in whose hands the future lies.” (Content warning: racism, attempted assault

Pirate Stew by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell - I mentioned this book was coming out to Alexis DeJoy in December, and I really enjoyed reading it, both to myself this week and then to some of my favorite 5-year-olds this weekend. The kids enjoyed the story and thought it was very funny. The illustrations were zany and the prose was fun to read aloud. 

Fry Bread: a Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard and Juana Martinez-Neal - The internet told me that after I finished reading I Can Make This Promise that I would enjoy reading this short non-fiction picture book. It did not disappoint. The first portion is beautifully illustrated, with a bit of prose on each page. The back matter takes each of those pages deeper, explaining the history, cultural significance, and more of each part of the story. I learned so much, and now I really want to eat some fry bread. 

The Warden and The Wolf King by Andrew Peterson - Wow, wow, wow.  I know you all told me this series was good (Looking at you Rachel Palm and Rachel Roller) but it did not disappoint. I have loved listening to this series on audio...the first two books on audiobook, and the second two books during Andrew Peterson's Facebook read alouds. If you want a similar experience, the new audiobooks narrated by Peterson came out on January 5th! After Peterson finished reading aloud the last book, he shared this Lament for the Finishing of A Beloved Book from Every Moment Holy, and it was the perfect way to end this wonderful reading experience. 

The Middler by Kirsty Applebaum - I discovered this book on a recent bookstore adventure. The Middler by Kirsty Applebaum is a debut middle grade dystopian novel, and was for the most part super interesting. In Maggie’s town, the Eldests are held up as brave and important. But, in a sinister turn of events, they are then sent off to “camp” to fight the “quiet war” at age 14. The other children aren’t put on this pedestal, but neither are they sent to camp. Maggie, a middle child, meanwhile discovers a young girl outside the boundary of the town who asks for help. Maggie must decide whether she believes the creed of her town, or whether all is not as it seems. The premise was fascinating, with opportunities for bravery and self discovery for our heroine. Two things make this a less than 5 star review for me. First of all, some of the writing felt choppy, and there were many sentence fragments. While this added to the urgency of the tone of the book, I think it took away more than it added. I also wanted to know more about the universe Applebaum created. I wanted to know what led to the war, who the war was between, and what was going on in other towns. Maybe in a sequel? But I was left with quite a few unanswered questions.

Jane Austen Investigates: The Abbey Mystery by Julia Golding - For fans of Enola Holmes or The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie comes this literary-inspired mystery starring none other than a young Jane Austen. I have mixed feelings about Jane as a young detective, but some of her budding wit and powers of observation as a writer are portrayed in the story. The mystery was interesting and the hint of scandal was delicious. Interesting character development for several of the young heros and heroines in this story. A solid read. (Thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to read this ARC!)

When I was talking about my audiobook listening this month, I mentioned that I listened to about half of Simon the Fiddler by Paulette Jiles. I wanted to like this book, but I didn't find the main character likable and I got bogged down by the slower pace of the storyline. I ended up stopping midway and starting another audiobook. 

Reading Stats

  • Library: 6
  • Owned: 3
  • eBook: 7
  • Audiobook: 3
  • ARC: 2

  • Fiction: 16
  • Non-Fiction: 4

Total: 20 

How's your January been? Do you have any goals or aspirations for your 2021 reading? Did you particularly enjoy any books this month? 

With lots of literary love from my library to yours,

Library Laura 


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Library Laura
Laura is an avid reader who is happiest when surrounded by books, tea, blankets and/or friends. Host of the Library Laura Podcast.


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