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by Donna Huber For the A to Z Challenge, I discussed different book genres/categories. Each day, I gave a few details about the genre/catego...

January 31, 2021

Winter Reading - January Wrap-up

by Donna Huber

Usually, January feels like a long month, but I think after last year nothing can feel quite as long as those months. I'm back to my average amount of books read and there are a few more television shows entertaining me. The only other thing is work as I'm still not going into stores or restaurants.

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Life Update

Nothing much is going on in my life right now. I had a birthday this month but like many others that have had a birthday during the pandemic, I celebrated alone. I did get a 3-day weekend (my birthday fell on MLK Day). Typically I would have gone to my parents' house for dinner and Mom would have made me hot fudge sundaes or a coconut cream pie. The Friday before I would have treated myself to soup and salad at Olive Garden and a trip to B&N next door. Instead this year, I did laundry and dishes and read some.

A few more of my television shows have come back so I'm watching a bit more TV than I was. I'm really enjoying the remake of All Creatures Great and Small on PBS's Masterpiece Theatre. I'm watching Miss Scarlet and the Duke that airs before it but I'm not enjoying it as much. I've also been watching Mad Men. It's on the IMDB TV app. I didn't get to see it when it originally aired as I've never had cable. I'm enjoying it more than I thought I would. I'm on the last season now.

Blog Update

Girl Who Reads had its 10 year anniversary this month and I did nothing to celebrate. I didn't even remember to post an announcement. Granted it is the day after my birthday but 10 years of book blogging is a long time. Many of the people who started blogs about the same time are no longer blogging, or at least, not book blogging anymore.

It has been a busy month as we try to wrap up the last of our 2020 reads and get started on 2021 books. I think with a number of new release dates being pushed back due to the pandemic we are seeing many more new books. I know many of my favorite authors are all releasing books in the next few months. Our most popular posts this month:
Alison discussed the sequels to two wildly popular novels. Gray Basnight, the author of Madness of the Q, discussed Fictional Forecasting of Advances in Technologies. We picked our favorite books of January.

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Reading Update

I'm pretty much back to reading my average number of books in a month: 12. I read slightly more books than normal - 8 books (7 ebooks and 1 print book). I also listened to 4 audiobooks. I did really well on reading review copies this month - 8 books and 1 audiobook. I'm also off to a good start on my goals.
  1. Read more or as many reviews copies: 9/12 (YTD: 9/12)
  2. Read 12 backlog review copies: 1 (YTD: 1)
  3. Read/listen to 125 books: 12/125

What I read

The Fever by Megan Abbott

The Fever
Back in 2014, when this book came out, I requested this book from Netgalley and I was approved. However, back then I didn't do a very good job of keeping up with archive dates, and it archived before I downloaded it. My digital library had the ebook so I decided to read it. so that I could improve my Netgalley feedback ratio. I found the story to be pretty boring overall and several times thought about giving up. I was curious enough about what was sickening the girls that I trudged on. There was also a weird, but subtle sexual vibe that bordered on creepy at times. The second half was marginally better. Read my full review.

Deenie Nash is a diligent student with a close-knit family; her brother Eli is a hockey star, and her father is a popular teacher. But when Deenie's best friend is struck by a terrifying, unexplained seizure in class, the Nashes' seeming stability dissolves into chaos. As rumors of a hazardous outbreak spread through school, and hysteria and contagion swell, a series of tightly held secrets emerges, threatening to unravel friendships, families, and the town's fragile sense of security. (Goodreads)

Buy The Fever at Amazon

Always Together at Christmas by Sara Sargent

Always Together at Christmas
I don't usually review children's book but I wanted to see how the pandemic topic was being handled in children's books. I also thought it would be a good thing for our week of Christmas reads we did in December. Unfortunately, it took a month for the book to reach me. Obviously, the purpose of this book was to make children feel okay with being apart from friends and family during the holidays due to the pandemic, but I think this book will useful for parents in the future as many families can't be with family over the holidays for a variety of reasons each. Military families sprang to mind immediately but families often have to move away from extended family for jobs and holiday travel can be cost-prohibitive. I received a free book from the publisher. Read my full review.

Christmas will always mean love.
Even if love looks a little different this year.

As families and communities come together--and stay apart--in creative ways this holiday season, bring comfort and joy to children with this story about a Christmas like no other.

Always Together at Christmas highlights different family traditions and the ways they're changing in 2020: from Santa's elves practicing social distancing to opening presents via Zoom on Christmas morning. And it even includes ideas for new quarantine-appropriate Christmas traditions! (Goodreads)

Lana's War by Anita Abriel

Lana's War
A bit more of your typical WWII romance than I was expecting. The tension I felt was more from anticipating the worst to happen (I read Code Name Helene this summer and so knew of the dangers female spies faced) but the story itself had little in the way of conflict or really any on the page action. I did enjoy the characters and the descriptions made me want to visit Nice. I received a free ARC via Netgalley. Read my full review.

Paris 1943: Lana Antanova is on her way to see her husband with the thrilling news that she is pregnant. But when she arrives at the convent where he teaches music, she’s horrified to see Gestapo officers execute him for hiding a Jewish girl in the piano.

A few months later, grieving both her husband and her lost pregnancy, Lana is shocked when she’s approached to join the resistance on the French Riviera. As the daughter of a Russian countess, Lana has the perfect background to infiltrate the émigré community of Russian aristocrats who socialize with German officers, including the man who killed her husband.

Lana’s cover story makes her the mistress of Guy Pascal, a wealthy Swiss industrialist and fellow resistance member, in whose villa in Cap Ferrat she lives. Together, they gather information on upcoming raids and help members of the Jewish community escape. Consumed by her work, she doesn’t expect to become attached to a young Jewish girl or wonder about the secrets held by the man whose house she shares. And as the Nazis’ deadly efforts intensify, her intention to protect those around her may put them all at risk instead. (Goodreads)

Buy Lana's War at Amazon

The Dark of Day by Barbara Parker

The Dark of Day
I think I missed something at the beginning so was lost for a while. Also, some of the characters didn't have distinct enough voices so when I thought one character was speaking it would turn out to be a different character. It would probably have been better if I had read it myself instead of listening to the audiobook. I checked out the audiobook from the digital library.

C J. Dunn is an expert at spinning her clients' image in the media. She is the perfect lawyer to deflect police interest in Rick Slater, head of security for Bob Shelby, a US congressman from Miami. Slater was seen at a South Beach party with the recently vanished Alana Martin, and in election season, any hint of scandal could doom the congressman's chances. C. J. has reasons not to like Slater's boss, but, if she succeeds, friends of the congressman have assured her that they can arrange a spot for her as a legal commentator on a national media outlet. For a woman living alone, with few close friends, a celebrity life does have its appeal.

But as the media close in, hounding everyone connected to the case, C. J. finds connections she had never anticipated. When Alana Martin is found dead and C. J.'s investigator implicates Rick Slater, C. J. is slammed between the media and the need to defend a client she no longer trusts. Then he delivers a bombshell: C. J.'s daughter, Traci Willis, the child she gave up for adoption seventeen years before, was a friend of Alana Martin's. Traci has information that could save Rick Slater but at the same time could reveal a devastating secret that would put C. J.'s career-and even her life-on the line. (Goodreads)

Buy The Dark of Day at Amazon

The Perfect Guests by Emma Rous

The Perfect Guests

This was a pretty good story. There's a little bit of a mystery and a good deal of suspense. I rather enjoyed the characters and how everything tied together at the end. If you are looking for a mystery that isn't as light as a cozy mystery but also not as dark as a psychological thriller, then this is the book you are looking for. I received a free ARC via Netgalley. Read my full review.

1988. Beth Soames is fourteen years old when her aunt takes her to stay at Raven Hall, a rambling manor in the isolated East Anglian fens. The Averells, the family who lives there, are warm and welcoming, and Beth becomes fast friends with their daughter, Nina. At times, Beth even feels like she’s truly part of the family…until they ask her to help them with a harmless game—and nothing is ever the same.

2019. Sadie Langton is an actress struggling to make ends meet when she lands a well-paying gig to pretend to be a guest at a weekend party. She is sent a suitcase of clothing, a dossier outlining the role she is to play, and instructions. It’s strange, but she needs the money, and when she sees the stunning manor she’ll be staying at, she figures she’s got nothing to lose.

In person, Raven Hall is even grander than she’d imagined—even with damage from a fire decades before—but the walls seem to have eyes. As day turns to night, Sadie starts to feel that there’s something off about the glamorous guests who arrive, and as the party begins, it becomes chillingly apparent their unseen host is playing games with everyone…including her. (Goodreads)

Buy The Perfect Guests at Amazon

Before She Disappeared by Lisa Gardner

Before She Disappeared
A great suspense novel. Not as high tension as some of Gardner's thrillers I've read but still enough tension to keep you from wanting to put the book down. I liked that the story focused as much on Frankie's own personal demons as the "ripped from headlines" plot of a missing teen. I received a free ARC via Netgalley. Read my full review.

Frankie Elkin is an average middle-aged woman, a recovering alcoholic with more regrets than belongings. But she spends her life doing what no one else will--searching for missing people the world has stopped looking for. When the police have given up, when the public no longer remembers, when the media has never paid attention, Frankie starts looking.

A new case brings her to Mattapan, a Boston neighborhood with a rough reputation. She is searching for Angelique Badeau, a Haitian teenager who vanished from her high school months earlier. Resistance from the Boston PD and the victim's wary family tells Frankie she's on her own--and she soon learns she's asking questions someone doesn't want answered. But Frankie will stop at nothing to discover the truth, even if it means the next person to go missing could be her. (Goodreads)

Buy Before She Disappeared at Amazon

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Where the Crawdads Sing
I've been wanting to read this book and when the university said that Delia Owens would be the guest at the virtual book club this month I decided it was time to read it. Well, listen to it as I checked out the audiobook from my digital library. I'm not a big fan of southern fiction but this story was well-written and had really great characters. I enjoyed the mystery. The author chat was really interesting.

How long can you protect your heart?

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. (Goodreads)

Out of Hounds by Rita Mae Brown

Out of Hounds
This is a series I pick up when I see a book but it isn't one that I actively seek out. While I like the characters and the mystery is interesting, I don't like the long descriptive passages, which are usually about foxhunting, but in this book, there was a long section describing a new estate in the area. I like that the mystery isn't solved in the typical cozy mystery fashion. There isn't really a character doing the sleuthing intentionally. It is more like when you read something in the paper and it piques your curiosity so you look stuff up on the internet or talk casually about it with your friends. I received a free ARC via Netgalley. Read my full review.

Spring is peeking through the frost in Virginia, and though the hunting season is coming to a close, the foxes seem determined to put the members of the Jefferson Hunt Club through their paces. Sister and her friends are enjoying some of the best chases they've had all season when the fun is cut short by the theft of Crawford Howard's treasured Sir Alfred Munnings painting of a woman in hunting attire riding sidesaddle. When another painting goes missing five days later--also a Munnings, also of a woman hunting sidesaddle--Sister Jane knows it's no coincidence. Someone is stealing paintings of foxhunters from foxhunters. But why?

Perhaps it's a form of protest against their sport. For the hunt club isn't just under attack from the thief. Mysterious signs have started to appear outside their homes, decrying their way of life. stop foxhunting: a cruel sport reads one that appears outside Crawford's house, not long after his painting goes missing. no hounds barking shows up on the telephone pole outside Sister's driveway. Annoying, but relatively harmless.

Then Delores Buckingham, retired now but once a formidable foxhunter, is strangled to death after her own Munnings sidesaddle painting is stolen. Now Sister's not just up against a thief and a few obnoxious signs--she's on the hunt for a killer. (Goodreads)

Buy Out of Hounds at Amazon

Cherry Cheesecake Murder by Joanne Fluke

Cherry Cheesecake Murder
As I have been reading this series out of order this book answered a number of questions I had when reading later books as new characters are introduced. An enjoyable audiobook. I checked the audiobook out from my digital library.

Hannah takes a break from sifting through her multiple marriage proposals. Hollywood has come to Lake Eden and The Cookie Jar is serving as snack central for the movie crew--Hannah's cherry cheesecake is demanding director Dean Lawrence's favorite. But no one seems to like Lawrence, so when he turns up dead, there's a baker's dozen suspects. It seems someone switched the movie's prop gun with a real gun, and the director's acting demonstration turned fatal. (Goodreads)

Death Comes to the Rectory by Catherine Lloyd

Death Comes to the Rectory
I'm so sad that this is the last book in the series. (I didn't know cozy mystery series ever ended). I love Lucy and Robert and I don't want to say goodbye. Luckily, as I came late to the series, I have a few titles still to read. I received a free ARC via Netgalley. Read my full review.

Murder casts a dark shadow over the christening of Lady Lucy and Major Sir Robert Kurland's daughter Elizabeth--even more so when Lucy's own father, the rector, falls under suspicion for the crime...

Lucy and Robert's joy in christening their new daughter, surrounded by extended family and loved ones who have gathered in the village of Kurland St. Mary, is only enhanced when Robert's aunt Rose--now the second wife of Lucy's father Ambrose--announces that she is with child. However, not everyone is happy about the news, in particular Rose's adult daughter Henrietta and her husband, who fear for their inheritance. Following the christening, Rose's disagreeable son-in-law Basil Northam threatens to turn afternoon tea in the rectory into an unsightly brawl. The next morning, he is found in the rector's study, stabbed through the heart with an antique letter opener, clutching a note that appears to implicate the rector himself. As the local justice of the peace, Robert has an obligation to remain unbiased in his investigation of the ghastly crime, even though his prime suspect is a man of the cloth and his wife's father. But Lucy is under no such obligation. As snow traps the members of the christening party in Kurland St. Mary, she vows to clear her father's name and bring the cold-blooded culprit to justice. Someone had better start saying their prayers. (Goodreads)

Murder in the Belltower by Helena Dixon

Murder in the Belltower
It is strange that it wasn't released last month given that the story takes place during Christmas. It seems all the guests at Enderlay Hall have secrets. Some I figured out before they were revealed and others I discovered right along with the characters. I've only read the previous book so there's no reason that you can't start with this book if you are just learning of the series. I received a free ARC via Netgalley. My review will be published on Tuesday.

Winter, 1933. Kitty Underhay is enjoying a restorative break from sleuthing on a visit to her family at Enderley Hall. The only thing marring her peace – aside from the uncomfortable sensation she has of being watched – is the obvious history between her beau, ex-army captain Matthew Bryant and another guest, the beautiful Juliet Vanderstafen. So, when the parish clerk is found dead on her front doorstep, Kitty leaps at the chance of distraction.

The police are happy to conclude that Miss Plenderleith met her unfortunate end on a patch of ice, but Kitty isn’t convinced this was a case of bad weather and worse luck. And when the Reverend Crabtree fails to show for tea the next day, she heads to the church to speak to him. But she arrives to find the clergyman hanging from the bell rope, dead.

With Matt seemingly wrapped up with his alluring Austrian, Kitty must solve the case on her own. But as she snoops into parish affairs, she makes some less-than-saintly discoveries. Just who has broken the sixth commandment? Meanwhile the killer is preparing a churchyard grave for Kitty, and she’ll have to use all her wits to avoid falling in. (Goodreads)

The Yes Factor by Erin Spencer & Emma Sable

The Yes Factor
This book is more women's fiction romance rather than chick-lit romance, though there are some chick-lit tropes. The dating mishaps provide levity to the more serious "finding yourself" moments. This would make a great beach read. I free audiobook was provided via Audiobookwork Promotions. My review will be posted on Thursday.

With 40 right around the corner, divorced single mom Bex is too busy being a chauffeur for her teenage daughter to bother swiping for dates.

Her best friend Liv, who is married to the supposedly perfect man, swoops in from London on a mission to get Bex out of her own bed and in to someone else’s. Liv pushes Bex into a week-long whirlwind of dates, awkward kisses and missed connections.

What could possibly go wrong when Bex agrees to Liv’s harebrained scheme of saying Yes to every possible suitor? And why is Liv so intent on fixing Bex’s love life, or lack thereof?

Just what do you find out when all of your no’s turn into The Yes Factor? (Goodreads)

Buy The Yes Factor at Amazon

And that's all for my month of reading and blogging and living life. How was your month?

Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.

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  1. Great post! I loved reading all your January news. I've been blogging since 2009 and although I have taken "breaks" I always come back to it after a few weeks. Happy Birthday and thanks for stopping by :)

  2. I agree: nothing will ever seem as long as those early days of lockdown. At least now we can see a possible end in sight.

    Happy birthday! I'm glad you have memories of old birthday celebrations. Olive Garden and a trip to B&N sounds perfect.

    Happy blogoversary, too! Ten years is an incredibly long time to be blogging, and I congratulate you on your persistence. Maybe you will feel like celebrating on your 11th anniversary.

  3. Congratulations on both your birthday and your blogoversary 🎈
    I ended up really enjoying Miss Scarlett and the Duke, I hope there is a second series soon.

    Wishing you a great reading week

  4. Happy belated birthday from a fellow January-Pandemic-Birthday girl! So very sorry you didn't get to go out and celebrate the way you used to. Maybe next year!!!

    Also happy belated blog-o-versary!

    THANK YOU for telling us where we can watch Mad Men!!!! I missed it the first go-round and I just finished Breaking Bad so this is PERFECT TIMING!

  5. Happy belated birthday and happy belated blogoversary!
    I am currently reading Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder, so I can see why it has so many books in the series.
    Happy February!

  6. Happy belated birthday and blogiversary! Pandemic birthdays are really no fun and feel like regular days. Sigh. You've been doing some really great reading; Crawdads has been on my TBR shelf for such a long time and I really do want to read it, but for some reason am intimidated by it.

  7. Happy Birthday and Happy Blog Anniversary! I suppose that at least these locked-down times give us all more time to read (and write!).

  8. Belated Happy Birthday and congratulations on 10 years of blogging! Sorry you weren't really able to celebrate either, but it seems that the end is in sight if we can all stay vigilant just a bit longer. Next year you'll be back to Olive Garden and B&N! At least you got to read a lot of great books. I loved Crawdads when I read it a couple of years ago. Have a good week.

  9. A belated happy birthday and congratulations on ten years of blogging - it's an achievement to have kept it going that long:). I haven't yet read Crawdads and hope to get hold of it from the library, when I get back there... Have a good week and thank you for popping by my blog, Donna:)).

  10. A quiet birthday for sure, belated Happy birthday and I hope that next year you'll be back with family. Looks like a really good reading month with nice variety. I didn't quite connect with When the Crawdads Sing, but might have liked it better on audio.

  11. I have before she disappeared and hoping to read soon!

  12. Nice wrap-up. Love the review of Lana's War.

  13. I wish I could go to a bookstore! My birthday is in March. It was really boring last year, and it’s going to be really boring this year. At least there will be cake. I hope you’re having a good February!

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

  14. Ah, sorry you didn't celebrate your blogoversary, 10 years is a big deal! I remember reading The Fever when it first came out, and it was okay, but not quite what I'd thought. I tried to listen to The Yes Factor, but I just couldn't get into it. Hope you have a good February.
    Lisa Loves Literature

  15. Congratulations on 10 years of blogging and happy belated birthday! Your birthday is the same as my anniversary. We are also not going into restaurants or stores. We tried to order curbside from our favorite restaurant, but they are closed on Mondays. Birthdays and other special occasions for people who don't want to get sick or spread the virus can be such a lonely time. I hope you have a wonderful February!