January Summary

I can’t believe January is over already! Seriously, where did the time go?!

It was a bit of a mixed bag for books this month. I got off to a bit of a rough start to the year with several book duds, but things definitely picked up later in the month and I loved all three of the books that I read for my January reading challenge. Here’s my summary:

Books read: 10
Pages read: 3,797
Main genres: Young adult, historical fiction, fantasy
Favourite (new) book: Girl in Translation
Favourite re-read: On the Jellicoe Road

I started off the month with Thunderhead, the sequel to Neal Shusterman’s new series Scythe. I did like this one, but overall I don’t think Shusterman is quite my cup of tea and I found it a bit boring. He explores a lot of really interesting concepts in Scythe and in comparison, Thunderhead seemed a bit lacking.

Things only got worse though because I followed up Thunderhead with The Life She Was Given and The Star-Touched Queen, both of which I did not like at all. The Life She was Given was my book club read of the month and it ended up being our lowest rated book to date, and we’ve read over 50 books! I found the book totally lacking in depth, development, and meaning. Likewise, I thought the writing in the Star-Touched Queen was so over-the-top flowery that it completely took away from the story. I can see why some people might be into this type of writing, but it really did nothing for me and I didn’t find the story meaningful.

Things picked up after that with the first book in my January Challenge to read 3 books about immigration – Girl in Translation. This is a fantastic book about a Chinese mother and daughter who immigrate to America and the terrible conditions they put up with just to survive. It was so well written; I loved the main character Kim and her aspirations to get the very best education so that her and her mother could rise above their circumstances. it was a very moving story.

Next I read Looking for Alibrandi, which is one of the few Melina Marchetta books I hadn’t already read. It was a solid 3-star read and I thought the main character Josie had a lot of spunk, but I didn’t think it was anything that special. However, it inspired me to give On the Jellicoe Road a re-read, which is one of my favourite books of all time and still moves me to tears, even after several re-reads over the last few years. These are both relatively older YA contemporary books, but I honestly think On the Jellicoe Road is timeless and that everyone should read it!

My second January Challenge read was Pachinko, which is a slow-moving historical epic that spans 80 years of history about a Korean family that immigrates to Japan during its colonial rule over Korea and struggle to build a life for themselves and escape the stigma of being Korean. It examines the challenges of being emancipated from your homeland and finding where you fit in in a new culture. Also a wonderful read, although quite long.

I needed something light and fast-paced before I tackled my last Challenge book, so I read The Cruel Prince which has been getting an insane amount of good reviews. I liked it, but was definitely disappointed with it because I think it’s gotten a little over-hyped and the book wasn’t able to deliver on my expectations. That said, I still gave it 3 stars and I will definitely be continuing on with this series. I’m hopeful about the next book!

My last book on immigration was American Street, which was refreshing in that it was totally unlike the first two books I read. American Street focuses on 16-year old Fabiola, whose mother is detained when they try to enter America from Haiti. She is forced to go on to Detroit without her mother and struggles to navigate her new life with her 3 larger than life cousins and her sick aunt. This was my least favourite of the 3, but I still really enjoyed it and gave it 4 stars.

I thought American Street would be the last book of the month, but I managed to fit in one more with Ruined. Based on other reviews I figured I would either love or hate Ruined and I’m pleased to say I LOVED IT! It’s a fast-paced YA fantasy novel that has a lot of action and a fair bit of romance. Sometimes I dislike too much romance in my fantasy novels, but I loved it in this one. Can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of the sequel!

The Life She Was Given


Author: Ellen Marie Wiseman
Genres: Historical Fiction
Read: Jan. 2018


Oh my goodness, how much suffering can one person take?

The Life She Was Given follows the stories of two women and switches back and forth between their perspectives every other chapter. Lilly’s story takes place in the 1930’s and begins when she is 10 years old. For the first 10 years of her life, Lilly has only known the attic of her parents manor. She is an albino and is shunned by her religious mother who views her as an abomination. However, one night she sees the red and white stripes of the big top being set up in the farmland near their estate and her mother hurries her out of the house for the first time in her life. Lilly is overwhelmed and shocked to discover that her mother has conspired to sell Lilly to the circus and abandons her with a controlling and terrifying man named Merrick who runs the circus sideshow, also known as the freak show.

As Lilly adjusts to circus life, we follow the story of another young woman, Julia. It’s the 1950’s and Julia is 18 and has run away from home, leaving behind her controlling religious mother and their huge manor. When she hears her mother has passed and the estate has been left to her, she reluctantly returns home and begins exploring the manor, discovering several photos of a young circus performer and realizing that her parents may have been hiding some dark secrets in the manor.

This book is a hard read. It is dark and disturbing and filled with an intense amount of suffering. I’m not opposed to reading dark books and I actually really like gritty books that make you feel, but there was very little that I enjoyed about this book.

First of all, Julia’s story was sooo boring. Barely anything happens to her and I found her whole side story with the horses pretty pointless. I can see why Wiseman decided to include it since it goes with her whole anti-animal cruelty theme, but honestly, I thought Julia’s arc with the horses really added nothing of value to the book overall. The whole premise of Julia’s story is that she finds stuff in the house that leads her to investigate what her parents were hiding, but it took forever for her to make any significant discoveries and I was just super bored. Julia was also totally unbelievable to me as an 18 year old runaway. Once she returned to the manor and took up all the responsibilities of running the farm, she seemed more like a 30 year old woman to me than an 18 year old who’d been living on her own with an abusive boyfriend for the last 3 years. She also didn’t read like someone who grew up in the 1950’s and I would have had no trouble believing her story took place in modern day. Overall I thought her characterization and development was very poor.

Lilly definitely had the more interesting story of the two women, but I didn’t love her story either. She was super mistreated, which I can understand because it was the 1930’s and people were afraid of things that were different or that they didn’t understand, but her story was just so dark! I found the whole animal whisperer thing to be a stretch and I didn’t really buy into it. I’m glad I read this book for my book club so that I can talk to some other people about it because I honestly have no idea what the theme of this book was supposed to be. Sure, this educated me a little bit on circus life, but really, what was the point of Lilly’s whole story? She just suffered and suffered without really seeming to grow as a character. I know she was mistreated her whole life, so it is understandable that she would be withdrawn, but she never actively did anything for herself. Things just kept happening to her and she only eventually escapes Merrick and finds any happiness because of Cole.

The ending of the book was just blah. I won’t spoil it, but everything about Lilly and Julia’s stories at the end just felt dramatic and overdone. There was no closure for me with this story and the ending felt very forced and not at all organic. I found this book to have a lot of clichés and insufficient justification for why some of the characters acted the way they did. For example, the whole thing with the zealous, religious mother and why she mistreated Lilly. This woman had zero compassion and felt like a caricature. She just was not believable to me as a human being and the “insight” into her character that Wiseman provides at the end was totally insufficient in helping me understand her. Honestly, Merrick was the only character I really thought was believable because I had absolutely no trouble imagining an overbearing, entitled man being a shit to woman to exert his control over them.

The whole animal cruelty storyline felt really cliché and basic too. I was eye-rolling hard at Julia every time she was opposed to something Claude wanted to do with the horses. Yes it is really sad about the nurse mares, but you are running a business and you can’t just adopt every foal put up for auction. But apparently Julia lives in a fantasy world where you can just abandon all manners of money making, become a philanthropist, and still maintain your wealth. For someone who basically lived on the street for 3 years, I found it really hard to believe she wouldn’t care about protecting her income.

Overall, this was an unsatisfying book and I’m glad it’s over.