My monthly reading wrap-up — January 2021

My pile of books I read in January 2021.

Wow, everyone — this month was chock full of amazing reads! I think one of the things this month that I am most proud of is the wide variety of books that I selected, including a personal development, short story collection, satire, thrillers, contemporary fiction, romance, and family drama. I was very fortunate to have a month where nothing I read fell flat. Each read was at least a 3-star read with several good things to say about them. Below are some mini reviews and synopses.

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle. This book was a Christmas gift from one of my closest friends, which meant so much to me. Serle’s debut, The Dinner List, was one of the books that really got me back into reading while I was in graduate school at Syracuse. Like her first one, In Five Years was filled with warmth and emotion as it follows meticulous and detail-oriented Dannie, whose life is turned upside down when she wakes up fives years in the future to experience one hour of a life very different than the one she originally envisions for herself. Upon returning to the present, she is unable to shake that hour, which transforms the many plans she had made for herself. This was a beautiful story to read coming out of a challenging year, full of transformation, hope, self discovery, and healing in the face of great tragedy for Dannie. It is story that brought me to tears but also provided great hope. A great first read of 2021!

The Office of Historical Corrections: A Novella and Stories by Danielle Evans. This collection was absolutely stellar — you can read my full review of the titular novella here. Overall, each story was challenging and thought-provoking, taking me back to my undergrad days as an English major. Some were more satirical, while others were dark or optimistic, but each dealt with topics of race, gender, and history in powerful ways. If you enjoy short stories that make you think hard, I definitely recommend this latest collection from author Evans.

The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins. This modern-day retelling of the classic Jane Eyre was such a fresh take on the original. While this story definitely strayed from the original, there were so many wonderful and creative nods to the Bronte classic that I couldn’t help but fall in love with the care and creativity that Hawkins put into her story. Just like the classic, Jane was my favorite character — while she wasn’t always likable in this retelling, she was resourceful, intelligent, and brave. After this story, I’m not sure I’ll ever look at the original story the same way, which is a good thing! If anything, this thriller gave me an even greater appreciation for the original and reminded me why this classic deserves its spot in the literary canon.

Black Buck my Mateo Askaripour. This one was definitely the absolute stand-out novel of January. It was so sharp and fresh, laugh-out-loud funny, yet so indicting in its criticism of race, ambition, and otherness in America’s workforce. You can read my full review here. This book had me entertained from start to finish, while simultaneously had me thinking hard about our society. Without a doubt, I will be recommending this book to anyone who asks my opinion!

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid. This is a close second for favorite book of January 2021. Like her past novels, Reid managed to create an ambitious, sexy, and glamourous tale that was simultaneously warm and tender, this time with a family drama that takes place over the course of 24 hours but with several flashbacks. I feel so fortunate to have received an eARC thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Random House in exchange for an honest review. You can read my full review here.

The Girl With the Louding Voice by Abi Daré. I used my free Book of the Year add-on credit with Book of the Month to get this incredible debut. I’d read the other four finalists, so of course, I needed to know what all the hype was with this one. And, boy, do I regret not getting this when it first came out in January 2020! This was a powerful testament to the power of education in helping young women find their voices. I was truly touched by Adunni’s resiliency, courage, and intelligence, as she fights to find her voice and follow her dreams. It truly deserved a spot as a top read of 2020, as chosen by Book of the Month subscribers. Check out my full review here.

The Happiness Equation: Want Nothing + Do Anything = Have Everything by Neil Pasricha. I don’t read a whole lot of nonfiction or personal development books, but I’m so fortunate to have been gifted this book in a Secret Santa exchange. It was a great book to start a new year, especially coming out of the unprecedented events of 2020. There were so many pieces of advice that resonated with me, and I enjoyed the collection of real-life quotes and anecdotes from a variety of famous people, from celebrities to athletes to philosophers, on how to achieve happiness. It’s a super fun, readable book for anyone wanting to learn some practical, applicable tips. If you’re like me and don’t read much self-help or nonfiction books, this would be a great one to check out.

The Night Swim by Megan Goldin. Disclaimer — as much as I love a good thriller, I sometimes find myself very weary with them. When you’ve read as many as I have, it’s tough to find one that surprises you! But The Night Swim managed to have me guessing until the end. I thought I had the “whodunnit” part figured out, but I managed to be shocked when the ending came. This was one of the best thrillers I’ve picked up in a long time in terms of true suspense. Additionally, it touched on issues of rape and sexual assault and the way female victims are treated in way that felt very validating. I’m shocked this one didn’t make it in Book of the Month’s BOTY finalists! You can read my full review soon.

What books did you read this month, and which one was your favorite? Comment below or reach out via Instagram!

There’s power in a name: A review of The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans

A copy of The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans being held up against a chalkboard wall.

You know that feeling when a book comes into your life at just the right time? That’s how I felt about this incredible collection of short stories and a novella. Overall, the collection was full of amazing stories that I think are all worthy to be checked out. But for the sake of this review, I’m going to focus on the novella, “The Office of Historical Corrections,” because in my opinion, if you have only time to read one story from this collection, it should be that one.

Quick synopsis: “[I]n the eye-opening title novella, a black scholar from Washington, DC, is drawn into a complex historical mystery that spans generations and puts her job, her love life, and her oldest friendship at risk.”

I read finished this story the day that the Capitol building was stormed by Trump supporters on January 6th. I’m only 25 years old, and I can honestly say this is the first time in my short life I felt truly scared. Scared for our sacred democracy, scared of white supremacy, scared of the consequences of selfish political leaders, and so much more.

The novella’s narrator is Cassie, a worker for the fictional Institute of Public History, more facetiously referred to as “the Office of Historical Corrections.” The job of its employees is to “address a different sort of public health crisis,” says Cassie. “We were the solution for decades of bad information and bad faith use of it. Our work was to protect the historical record, not to pick fights (guideline 1) or correct people’s reading of current news (guideline 2)” (pg. 165).

Warning: the following contains some spoilers. Keep reading at your own risk!

As a reader, I was first struck by how interesting this concept could be if followed perfectly — potentially a solution to people’s distrust of facts by providing an office that is designed to let the public know the truth. But like most things political and governmental, political correctness ends up taking the front seat, which often forces Cassie, who is Black, to choose to either ignore or accept corrections regarding race that don’t really serve to help anyone who it actually matters to, much to the malaise of those close to her, such as her boyfriend, who is also Black.

The plot really picks up when Cassie’s former coworker Genie creates a PR nightmare that requires Cassie — the Office’s token Black employee — to troubleshoot. Genie, also called Genevieve, is following a historical mystery of sorts involving a black man who supposedly was killed in the 1930’s near Milwaukee, but new information suggests he may not have actually been murdered. Genie is there to solve it, and Cassie is there to fix whatever Genie does that reflects poorly on the Office.

Without going into too many details that would severely ruin this story, what I will say is that the ending is truly devastating and unforgettable. But as a reader, I was left with this important message: there is power in naming something and calling a thing what it is. That is the grand lesson that Cassie must learn — whether she actually does so is another question. But the story’s ending in particular reveals not only the incredible freedom and power in revealing the truth and calling something by its proper name, but also the devastating effect it can have when some people choose to ignore it.

So as I read this book and simultaneously watched people storm the Capitol, I was reminded of the importance of putting a name to something and not sugarcoating it. I looked on Facebook and saw “friends” referring to those people as protesters, participating in their constitutional right to peacefully protest what they considered an unfair election. Some people suggested it was fully within the rights of Trump as President to encourage his supporters to simply protest.

But if we are to agree with the premise of “The Office of Historical Corrections,” then it is vital that we call a thing by its name. I am immensely thankful for the hosts of people who voiced what the events of January 6th actually were: insurrection caused by sedition, anarchy, domestic terrorism, white supremacy, an attack on democracy and free elections, and so much more.

I obviously wrote this review in retrospect of the Capitol storming, but it truly took me this much time to both process the events of that day and Evans’ stunning novella. If you’ve made it this far, I hope you found something thought-provoking in this review and are encouraged to read her novella (or hopefully the entire collection) if you haven’t already. I can see this whole short story collection being taught one day in a literature or critical race theory course. It’s just that good. This story is definitely the reason I will always love stories — for the way fiction can express truth and reveal knowledge in a way that transcends the pages and intertwines with reality.