January 2021 Books to Read (and Skip)

January 2021 Books to Read


2021 books are off to a great start for me! I was thrilled to read a couple winning books that were squarely in my wheelhouse (I’d been on a bit of a drought with these types of books).

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Favorite Books of January 2021

Fortunate OnesThe Fortunate Ones by Ed Tarkington
Fiction – Literary (Release Date: January 5, 2021)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Algonquin)

Plot Summary: Charlie Boykin, who’s from a working class area of Nashville, gets a scholarship to an elite private school and befriends a wealthy older student and his family.

My Thoughts: I adored Tarkington’s debut novel, Only Love Can Break Your Heart (my review), so I was excited to read his take on “wealthy people behaving badly” and “rich, unsupervised teens” (thank you, Bad on Paper Podcast, for this perfect phrase!). The premise of this story reminded me of the Gossip Girl TV series…only set in Nashville. And, Charlie Boykin is reminiscent of Dan Humphrey and his “outsider observing wealthy people behaving badly” status. The Fortunate Ones is a character-driven novel that’s easy to fly through and a cautionary tale about privilege run amok. It follows the characters from their private school adolescence into adulthood and delves into the dirtiness of politics. Tarkington is an astute observer of human nature and social behavior, which is apparent in his spot-on commentary on race, class, and privilege. Tarkington’s voice was what really made me love Only Love Can Break Your Heart and it’s back in full force in The Fortunate Ones. 4.5 stars!

I loved Arch in the needy way of a disciple following a guru, feasting on his attention. I loved and needed him in a way he could never requite, even if he tried.

The PushThe Push by Ashley Audrain
Literary Fiction (Release Date: January 5, 2020)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Pamela Dorman Books)

Plot Summary: Blythe, who comes from an extremely dysfunctional childhood with a mostly absent mother, has her own daughter and finds she’s lacking a connection. She fears Violet is not like other children. After having her second child, something drastic happens with her family.

My Thoughts: This debut novel is being marketed as a “page-turning psychological drama,”, which I interpreted to mean psychological thriller…but, it’s NOT that. I’d say it’s a dark, emotionally intense, dysfunctional family story focused on motherhood. It’s not a book for everyone and it will be divisive, but I loved it. It’s deeply unsettling and emotionally taut. Audrain makes excellent observations about the dark side of motherhood and says things I’m sure many mothers think at some point, but would be judged for if they said out loud. She examines society’s expectations of how mothers “should” act and the harmful repercussions of these expectations for many women. It’s also about a mother constantly questioning whether she’s really seeing what she thinks she’s seeing…and what happens when your husband doesn’t believe you. The Push will generate lots of discussion and would make an excellent book club selection. 5 stars!

You used to care about me as a person – my happiness, the things that made me thrive. Now I was a service provider. You didn’t see me as a woman. I was just the mother of your child.

Also Read These…

What Could Be SavedWhat Could Be Saved by Liese O’Halloran Schwarz
Literary Fiction (Release Date: January 12, 2020)
464 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Atria Books)

Plot Summary: When a man claiming to be Laura’s brother who disappeared in Bangkok in 1972 surfaces, Laura digs into the past.

My Thoughts: What Could Be Saved is a crowd-pleasing family drama with some elements that make it stand out from the plethora of family dramas out there (Bangkok setting, a spy element). It has a bit of a mystery, though the mystery is not the forefront of the story. The story is told in a dual timeline: 1970’s Bangkok leading up to Phillip’s disappearance and present day when Phillip resurfaces. Despite its length, it reads quickly and easily and is the kind of book you want to fly through. It has the feeling of a vacation novel (i.e. multiple people living in the same house living with secret parts of their lives that all impact what happened to Phillip). But, no one family or staff member knows all the pieces to be able to put them together. It’s part expose of American expat life in Bangkok (including how badly this family treats their household help) and it gets into the underbelly of Bangkok. My one gripe is the ending is a little slow and gets overly philosophical. Overall, it reminded me of The Most Fun We Ever Had & The Last Romantics (including lots of adult sibling dynamics). 4.25 stars!

They never spoke of Philip. It was almost as though it were an ordinary thing, to have had a brother once and lost him, like a favorite toy you carried every day and couldn’t imagine being without, and then one day noticed you carried no more. With no memory of the last time you’d seen it, not knowing where, or exactly when, you’d put it down.

Skip This One…

Black BuckBlack Buck by Mateo Askaripour
Literary Fiction (Release Date: January 5, 2020)
400 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Plot Summary: When Darren Vender (the valedictorian of his high school class at Bronx Science before becoming a Starbucks barista in a Manhattan office building) meets Rhett Daniels (the CEO of a sales organization), Rhett offers Darren an opportunity to join his sales team that takes his life in a different direction.

My Thoughts: Black Buck (Askaripour’s debut novel) is unlike anything I’ve ever read…with mixed results. On the positive side, I appreciated Askaripour’s commentary on workplace culture and particularly racism (both micro and macro) in the workplace (and in general). And, I loved his overall message of members of a marginalized group banding together to fix a rigged game and helping others learn how to succeed at that game. I also loved that he structured the book like a sales manual, specifically calling out key takeaways. On the flip side, the publisher is marketing Black Buck as “satirical” and I don’t normally read much satire, but I suspect the genre may not work well for me. A number of plot points felt too over-the-top for my taste (over-the-top plot points are one of my general reading pet peeves) and the opening section of the book that focused on the sales company’s hazing schtick felt repetitive and went on too long. I actually almost DNF’d around 36% for this reason. But, the schtick did fall away soon after the 36% mark and I got more engrossed in the story. Black Buck (a #readwithjenna pick) absolutely made me think, but missed the overall mark for me. 3.25 stars.

[…] I realized it was freedom that had motivated me from the very beginning. Not money, power, the need to prove myself, or even to make Ma proud, but the freedom to breathe where I want, when I want, how I want, and with whom I want in my beautiful brown skin.

What’s the best book you’ve read so far this month?

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January 2021 Books to Read


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  1. Linda S. wrote:

    I just finished “Winter Counts” by David Heska Wanbli Weiden which I enjoyed and learned some things about Native American customs/rituals. Now I am reading “Blacktop Wasteland” by S. A. Cosby. Both books have a flawed and likable protagonist which is always a good thing for me.

    Posted 1.14.21 Reply
  2. Well done! Your reviews are right on target. I like that you explained so clearly why Black Buck didn’t work for you. By the way, I share your over-the-top pet peeve!

    Posted 1.14.21 Reply
  3. Gabby wrote:

    I also really struggle to get into satire! Give me witty wordplay any day for humor!

    Posted 1.14.21 Reply
  4. Kristie Wilson wrote:

    The books you recommend sound so good! They are all on my wishlist now.

    Posted 1.14.21 Reply
  5. I was unfamiliar with What Could Be Saved, but after reading about it both here and at MMD, it’s high up on my TBR list. Sounds right up my alley!

    Posted 1.15.21 Reply
  6. My BFF lives in Nashville so I told her about The Fortunate Ones based on your recommendation on your podcast episode. I’m thinking The Push might be too intense for me, but I’m definitely curious about it.

    Posted 1.15.21 Reply
  7. What Could Be Saved was one of the January releases that caught my eye also, so pleased to read your mostly positive experience with that one. Ed Tarkington is an author that’s entirely new to me though. May your new reading year be a safe and happy one Sarah!

    Posted 1.21.21 Reply

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