January Reads

I’d love to return to full book reviews in the future. In fact, I hope to post a few full book reviews within the coming weeks. But I thought it would be great to write short reviews and compile them into one monthly blog post. From novellas to novels to the occasional non-fiction book, I chipped away at my ‘TBR’ list in preparation for the host of highly anticipated books that will be published later this year. Here are my thoughts on the books I read in January:

The cover for the novella 'The Haunting of Tram Car 015'

The Haunting of Tram Car 015– Set in an alternative, futuristic Cairo, this novella follows two members of the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities. I picked this up for research into how to write a novella and I was in awe of everything in here. The world-building is realistic and fantastical. The characters will stick with me forever. There are humorous moments that made me chuckle out loud. It was a great introduction to this world filled with djinns, the rise of the women’s rights movement in Egypt and detective types who need a good vacation. A companion novel comes out later this year and I can’t wait to dig into it.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The cover image of the novel 'Dear Martin'

Dear Martin– Blending epistolary elements with a traditional, linear story, this contemporary Young Adult novel tackles the ugly ways racism still rears its ugly head. I felt a sense of nostalgia when reading this. It reminded me stories like Tears of a Tiger or Forged by Fire or other Sharon Draper novels. Justyce felt lifelike and unfortunately, his experiences as a Black student in a predominately white classroom/academic environment, reminded me of experiences I had when I was a student. This is a book that can be read by teens and adults who want answers on how to navigate a world that seems fixated on diminishing you. I believe this is a novel that should be required or suggested reading for middle and high schoolers. I’ll also add that I listened to the audiobook and the narration is close to perfection.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Ring Shout– Set in the rural South and featuring creatures that are literally out of this world, Clark’s latest novella has roots in traditional fantasy, science-fiction with enough horror elements to unsettle any reader. This novella captured my heart for the simple fact that it’s set in Macon, Georgia, a town that’s just a few miles north of my hometown of Warner Robins. But that’s not the only thing I appreciated about this story. Featuring a magic sword, monsters that feed on hate and fear, a magic system that’s unlike anything I’ve encountered before and a galactic conspiracy to rule over Earth, this story has something for any fan of speculative fiction. I would love to return to this world in a sequel novella or in a future novel. There’s so much to explore and many questions that are left without a resolution by the end of the story.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Black Sun– This was one of my highly anticipated books of 2020 and I finally managed to find time to read this epic fantasy. The year has just started, but I can say this is one of the best, if not THE best, book I’ve read in 2021! I loved everything about this book. Transporting the readers to a fantasy world that’s inspired by pre-Columbus America, Black Sun follows several different characters who fates are all entwined, with varying degrees of importance, to the rare Convergence event. From the first page, I was in awe of the writing that made this world come to life before my eyes. And Roanhorse handles the different POVs so well, providing a nuance perspective of this world and its customs. The romance in here is also tender, painful and left me wanting more. Honestly, my one ‘strike’ against the book is the introduction of one character who appears about a quarter of the way in the narrative. By that point in the story, I was heavily invested in the other characters and wasn’t too sure on this character who popped up. But it’s clear he will play a larger role in the coming books, so I’ll eagerly wait to see how his story unfolds. I can’t wait for the sequel and I hope this series receives as much love as other popular fantasy series! (And HBO or Showtime or some premium channel needs to turn this into a show!)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Mythology– When I initially decided to read this book, I thought it would be a commentary on various myths from Greek, Roman and Norse mythology. But this is actually a retelling of these myths that’s accessible and fun to read. I vaguely remember reading parts of the Odyssey and Oepidus Rex in high school, but struggling to connect with the text. Hamilton uses the classic texts to inform her telling of these stories, modernizing these stories and making it easier for current readers to engage with these mythological tales. My only issue with this book is the small section it devotes towards Norse mythology. I’m sure this is due to the destruction of a lot of Norse texts. But it was still disappointing reading a Norse section that’s less that 30 pages long. Still, I enjoyed this book and I plan on reading it again to have a deeper understanding of these stories. I want to read the Illiad and Odyssey later this year and plan to keep Hamilton’s Mythology close by to help me better understand the original translated text.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The Color of Law– In an attempt to beef up my historical knowledge and understanding of codified racism and discrimination in this country, I decided to ‘read’ (via audiobook) The Color of Law. Using both anecdotal, narrative evidence and sections of law and their effects, this book examines the ways in which segregation was reinforced, both actively and passively, by the federal government and its agents. One thing this book hammered home is how recent a lot of discriminatory zoning and housing legislation is. It’s easy to believe most of the harm of segregation occurred centuries ago. But to this day, there are laws and rules that inadvertently and sometimes purposefully encourage the division of racial groups. Rothstein offers some solutions on how the country can change its current trajectory, but he also makes it clear that these changes need to occur soon and they must come from the federal level and be properly enforced. The final chapter and epilogue drives home how impactful these policies have been to entire generations of the African-American community. I highly encourage reading this book if you have any interest in truly understanding how insidious segregation is in the United States.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Gideon the Ninth– A few friends read this before me and went on and on about how amazing this book is. Admittedly, when I started reading it, I didn’t understand the hype around it. Then I finished the book and spent a good 5-10 minutes crying as I experienced a wide range of emotions. My favorite part of the book was the slow unthawing of Gideon and Harrowhawk’s relationship. I also have a soft spot for morally dubious female characters who can’t quite work through their trauma, so by the end Harrow was one of my favorite characters and I’m eager to read the sequel from her perspective. There are a lot of characters here and honestly, sometimes it felt too crowded and I kept flipping to the guide at the front of the book to remind myself of who was who. But that is my one small criticism. (Actually another tiny criticism that has nothing to do with the story: Gideon is a buff woman and the person on the cover isn’t.) The ending was absolutely amazing and the weight of it crept up on me, hence the 10 minutes of crying. This was a great introduction to the trilogy. It’s filled with laughs, intrigue, tension and so many characters incapable of having a genuine, heartfelt conversation. Between Gideon the Ninth and Black Sun, I feel so inspired to draft my own epic speculative series! (This also deserves a TV or movie adaptation. Though with the another of gore and blood here, it will likely need to be picked up by HBO or Showtime.)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Mansa Musa and the Empire of Mali– I picked up this book a few months back when I first heard of the upcoming table-top role-playing game, ‘Into the Motherlands.’ If you have any interest in role-playing games and want to support Black and Brown creators, I recommend you check out their gameplay over on Twitch. The game is inspired by Mansa Musa and the Mali Empire. I’m a lover of history and wanted to learn more about this African empire. I think this book is a great jumping off point for amateur historians and history lovers. It provides a quick overview of Mansa’s ascent to the throne, his rule over his empire and recounts a popular story of his journey to Mecca. (He gave out so much gold in Cairo that he caused the price of gold to skyrocket. It took years for Egypt to recover.) The book is written in a casual, accessible manner that makes it easy for non-academics to pick up and read. In some ways, it felt like a text that may be used in a middle or high school setting. It doesn’t go too heavily into Mansa’s full reign. Most of the chapters provide very quick snapshots and a sizable portion of the book focuses on the emperor’s pilgrimage that literally helped put Mali on the map. The author provides a bibliography at the end, so if you have any interest in learning more about this kingdom or any other West African civilization, you can easily find a new source to scratch that itch. Overall, a great introduction into a fascinating historical figure and medieval empire.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

All Systems Red– I originally planned to read 8 books this month (because I don’t know the definition of ‘rest’), but I managed to squeeze in one more audiobook. Truthfully, I borrowed this from my local library and the due date was fast approaching, so I decided to listen to it before I ran out of time. It’s interesting reading a narrative from the perspective of a non-human character. (It’s something I love about speculative fiction.) ‘Murderbot’, as he calls himself, is a security android assigned to a small group of researchers studying an uninhabited planet. I related to the Murderbot from the very beginning. He’s a highly introverted character who enjoys watching his series, slacks off with his duties and hates talking about his feelings. He seems mostly apathetic towards his former clients, but with this particular group he is invested in keeping them alive and out of harm’s way. Murderbot’s frankness and dry humor breaks up the tension in the story. I found myself chuckling even during dire moments. This was a great opening to a series of books and given the ending (that I won’t spoil), I’m curious to see what Murderbot’s next adventure will be. I hope to read the second book in the series soon and will likely purchase physical copies of this series in the near future so I can read it again and again!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Want to know what I plan on reading in February? No worries! Here’s a glimpse at my TBR list for the month:

  • Harrow the Ninth
  • Hood Feminism
  • A Memory Called Empire
  • Little Fires Everywhere
  • Last Night at the Telegraph Club

I also have a book on King Arthur and his legends that I may dig into during this month. Though it’s a hefty tome and it will likely take me a while to read it.

Let me know your reading goals for this year and what books you’re eager to read! What books did you read in January? Or what books do you hope to read in February? Thanks for reading this post and as always: Happy Writing!

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