January Book Review Summary

Plate Spinning

January for a lot of us is a time of resolutions. Whether that means setting book reading goals, writing goals, fitness goals, mindfulness or self-care goals, being a better parent, child, sibling, uncle or aunt, a lot of us set goals in January. And by February a lot of us have given up and moved on. 

I suspect that many of you are like me in that you like to keep busy. Sometimes setting goals on top of an already busy schedule can also be setting ourselves up for failure. If we've already got a lot of plates spinning, that new goal can end up being one plate to many.

Despite the fact that I'm retired I don't have problems keeping myself busy. Just as when I was working I like to keep a lot of plates spinning at the same time. These days, my spinning plates revolve around reading, writing about reading, gardening, volunteering for more than one local organization (and for more than one project at those organizations), and keeping up with my fitness by running on a regular basis. 

So for me this year I've picked small goals. In my reading life I've picked the same goal as last year - to read 100 books this year. But I added a new goal of reading one classic book each month as part of my 100. One month in, I'm on goal, even a bit ahead, but I'm taking it one month at a time.

Anyway - on to the Book Review Summary...

Favorite book this month

I really enjoyed the nonfiction book Ten Drugs this month, and it's the only book I gave five stars. It is a popular science book (one of my favorite kind) that's done well. Even if you normally don't like nonfiction I'm guessing you'd find a lot to like about this book.

Book Formats

  • Three audiobooks (The Taking of Jemima Boone, The Bright Ages, and Rock Me On the Water
  • Five ebooks (The Sword in the Street, Short Vigorous Roots,Dementia Adventure & Seaweed In My Hair, City of Bridges and After the Romanovs
  • Two physical books (Ten Drugs and The Sun Also Rises)


Two Advanced Reviewer's Copies this month - Helen Rappaports' After the Romanovs provided through NetGalley and St Martin's Press; and the anthology Short, Vigorous Roots provided through LibraryThing and Ooligan Press.

Also, one Reviewer's Copy for the already published City of Bridges, provided through Henry Roi PR and the author.

Book Tours

Two book tours this month. I was very happy to start the month as part of the very first book tour put on by Escapist Tours for C.M. Caplan's The Sword in the Street. The second tour this month was from Love Books Tours for Miller Caldwell's Dementia Adventures & Seaweed In My Hair.

Summary Reviews

Summary reviews of each of my January reads are below. The link in each summary review lead to my full review for that book. At the top of each my full review post are links to the publisher's page for the book, and the author's web page or internet presence. At the bottom of each review post are the bookseller links. 

Four Stars ⭐⭐

A character-driven queer fantasy story with a medieval setting.  Author C.M. Caplan uses the story to delve into real topics and issues in a way you might not expect from a fantasy tale. I really enjoyed this book. The two main characters, John and Edwin, typify the trials and dynamics of a long term relationship in realistic terms, and are well written - you get drawn in and are rooting for them to succeed.

Three Stars ⭐

An anthology of flash fiction around the topic of immigration. Forty short short stories of 1000 words or less. I have to give kudos to most of the writers for packing so much story into so few words.  Some seem like scenes in a larger story, some a full story in themselves. Of interest to anyone who is a 1st- or 2nd-generation immigrant themselves, or who likes flash fiction, or is looking for a quick book.

Four Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Historical mystery writer Matthew Pearl takes on nonfiction in this telling of the kidnapping of Jemima Boone and everything that happened as a result. He peels back the layers of romantic storytelling to get down to what actually happened. Interesting tale of the western frontier in Kentucky at the time of the American Revolution, even if Pearl may have gotten some of the larger context wrong.

Three Stars ⭐⭐⭐

Novellas Two and Three of a trilogy by the Scottish author Miller Caldwell. (I reviewed the first novella back in November.) Set on the Isle of Arran off the western coast near Glasgow, the three might be categorized loosely as "cozy mysteries", though a constable is the crime solver, and there is some violence in the third novella. The third is also the best of the three. All are light reading, and I appreciated them for taking me somewhere else on a few cold winter evenings.

Three Stars ⭐⭐⭐

Another fantasy, this time based an a role playing game of the author's own invention. The author excels at character development and the two main characters Leonie (a human / feline hybrid) and Feiron (a shape shifter) are fun to follow through their adventures. Not being a fan of RPGs myself, I found the plot a bit frustrating, as Leonie gathered powers throughout the book, true to it's RPG origins.

Unrated - Classic Read

The first of my classic reads, which I've decided not to offer ratings on. This debut novel by Ernest Hemingway is arguably his best, and is today considered probably "the" book of his generation. Published in 1926, the book is told through the eyes of Jake Barnes, a war wounded American correspondent in Paris. The main action is around a love triangle, and a trip to Spain to take in a festival of bullfighting. It's Hemingway's writing style that makes the book transcend its story of lost souls spending their prime in partying and dissipation. 

Three and 1/2 Stars ⭐⭐⭐🌠

Helen Rappaport has written several books about the Russian Revolution and its aftermath. This, her latest, focuses on Russian émigrés in Paris after the Revolution.The large number of people cited and stories told proved a challenge. It is not a book to be read straight-through. But I found if I read a chapter and then stepped away to absorb it, that I was rewarded with a better understanding of the fate of the losing side of the Revolution than I had before reading this book. 

Three Stars 

Author Brownstein uses 1974 LA, and that year's changes to music, movies, television, and politics, as a way of exploring how the 1960s crashed into the 1970s and changed mainstream America. The individual stories he shares are fascinating but the structure of the book is troublesome. I enjoyed this book probably more than it deserves. Brownstein covers A LOT of territory and it can be overwhelming. But listening to the audiobook in bite sized pieces helped. For me it was part nostalgia and part pop history.

Five Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

This is popular science writing done well. The book has crisp, clear explanations of science and medicine, a broad overview of the history of drug discovery and development, and very little jargon. The books ten chapters take on ten different classes of drugs / treatments, and walk us through their development and impacts. Includes a discussion of "Big Pharma" and the rationale behind their drive for new products. Very well told.

Four Stars 

A well written overview of European history from the mid 400s to the early 1300s, through a modern lens that does away with the darkness of the "Dark Ages". Each of the books seventeen chapters focuses on a different time and place, as a way of illuminating different topics. The tone of the book is conversational and it's likely the authors had undergrads or others with little exposure to medieval history as their target audience. For the rest of us its a modernized and well done refresher.