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For many years, I’ve been a participant in the Goodreads Reading Challenge. When I set my goal at the beginning of the year, it ignites a fire in me to read more than ever before. To be honest, I’ve been lacking in the reading department for the last few years. I read 84 books in 2018, but it’s been downhill ever since.

However, after completing a lackluster 25 books in 2021, I’m determined to read more this year and hit my goal of 50 books. The Reading Challenge in combination with my constant consumption of BookTok content, is just the inspiration I need to get back into a reading groove. As a result, I was able to complete five books during the month of January.

Below, I’ve listed each of the books I’ve read and my rankings and opinions on each of them. Although some were better than others, more than anything, I just enjoyed picking up books again.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab • 4/5 stars

I was excited to start the year off with this book. I had heard lots of good things about it, so when I received it for Christmas I started reading as soon as I could. Although the book was good overall, I struggled through the character-driven plotline and the pacing of the story.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue follows Addie, a girl from 1700s France who made a deal with the devil to resist her forced marriage. As a result, she becomes somewhat of a ghost––people can see her, but don’t remember her. Her curse will end once she gives her soul to the devil, who she comes to know as Lucien. However, Addie refuses to give her soul to him and has spent more than 300 years being invisible to everyone. But one day, she walks into a bookstore in New York and isn’t forgotten by the shopkeeper when she steals a book. Together, Addie and the boy at the bookstore, Henry, discover how their lives intertwine and question their true values.

I enjoyed the characters, but I found myself getting bored with the plotline, especially at the beginning when it was filled with background information and again in the middle when the plot slowed again and I struggled to see where the story was going.

That being said, I enjoyed Addie and Henry’s relationship, but I feel like the ending would’ve been more impactful if we have seen their relationship grow over time. There were several instances where I could have used more romance. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the book and it’s themes; I’m excited to pick up more books by V.E. Schwab.

Neon Gods by Katee Robert • 5/5 stars

I sped through this book in less than 24 hours and loved every minute of it.

Neon Gods is a modern retelling of Persephone and Hades. Although I don’t know much about Greek myths, I loved every minute of this story. In this version of the ancient story, The Thirteen are a group of the most powerful gods in the city. Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades are legacy positions passed down from generation to generation, but the other ten are elected to their positions. 

Demeter, Persephone’s mother, is planning an engagement between Zeus, a tyrannical and powerful god upwards of sixty-years-old. To escape her engagement, Persephone runs across the divide in the city––the River Styx––and right into Hades arms. There, Persephone hides from the rest of the city and squashes the myth that the Hades title is dead.

I was a bit skeptical at the beginning of this story, but it didn’t take me long to fall for Hades and how he obsessively cares for Persephone. I loved the setting and the contrast between the Upper and Lower Cities. The politics of the Thirteen and the power dynamic between them is also a unique twist on an ancient story.

This book was super spicy and the romance was beautiful. After reading this, I can’t wait for the second book to be released!

The Wall of Winnipeg and Me by Mariana Zapata • 2.5/5

This book had been on my TBR for awhile, but it’s popularity on TikTok finally made me pick it up to see what all the hype was about. Although I wanted to love this sports romance, I was left disappointed and hesitant to pick up any more of Zapata’s books.

The Wall of Winnipeg and Me follows Vanessa, the assistant of the famous Canadian football star Aiden. After having enough of Aiden’s silence and his manager’s bullying, Vanessa finally decides to quit her job as Aiden’s assistant and start doing her graphic design business full time. However, one night after she gets back from a run, Aiden is sitting on a bench at her apartment building begging for her to come back––not just to be his assistant, but his wife. Aiden’s work visa is running out, but he wants to live in the States fulltime without the constriction of a visa. After a few more run-ins, Vanessa finally caves into his plan and moves to her former boss’s house. From there, they must navigate their relationship and the challenges associated with being in the spotlight as a football star.

Although the synopsis sounds enticing, there were too many flaws in this book for me to love it. For one, I hated the writing style. I don’t know if it was because the character was annoying or because it is Zapata’s writing style, but Vanessa was constantly going on random thought-tangents, sometimes paragraphs long during dialogue. It distracted me from the current conversation and was anything but impactful.

The pace was painstakingly slow; I’m convinced this behemoth of a book could be cut in half if it weren’t so long-winded and filled with tangents. I was also promised spice by BookTok, but there was only one spicy scene at the very, very end. Finally, I didn’t like the dynamic between Vanessa and Aiden; I also didn’t agree with or even understand Vanessa’s choices a lot of the time.

Overall, I was quite disappointed with this book and don’t know if I’ll be reading more from Zapata.

Josh and Gemma Make a Baby by Sarah Ready • 4.5/5 stars

I was lucky enough to read this as an ARC earlier this month, and was pleasantly surprised by this sweet romance.

Josh and Gemma Make a Baby follows Gemma, a woman in her thirties who is tired of pining after men and being set up by her mother. Instead, she decides to start a family on her own––the only problem is she needs a sperm donor. She decides her brother’s best friend, Josh, will be the perfect donor––he’s good looking, smart, and doesn’t have any health issues. But as Josh and Gemma begin to spend more time together, they both realize their plan isn’t what they had originally expected.

I came into this book fairly blind, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Josh and Gemma’s relationship felt real, raw, and honest rather than cliché like in many romances. I love how Josh and Gemma are both complex characters with a lot of baggage as they get to know each other on a more intimate level; I was rooting for them the entire time and loved how their relationship grew.

I also thought the IVF aspect of the book was very raw, real, and impactful; it showed the reality of life and it’s complexities. As a whole, I loved this book and can’t wait to read more from Sarah Ready.

Electric Idol by Katee Robert • 4/5 stars

Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long for the sequel to Neon Gods. I preordered Electric Idol and was able to read it as soon as it was on my doorstep.

Electric Idol follows Psyche, Persephone’s sister. Psyche, much like her sister, is being used as a pawn by their mother in an arranged engagement. However, Psyche wants no part in the engagement. After her mother suddenly brings her to Zeus, Psyche leaves the party to get some air and comes upon Eros––the son of Aphrodite, Demeter’s enemy, and his mother’s hitman. 

Rather than fear him, Psyche helps Eros clean a wound from a recent mission. Her kindness doesn’t go unnoticed, and when Eros is ordered to kill Psyche weeks later, he can’t follow through and decides to do the only thing he can to protect her––marry her. Psyche must choose between marriage and death, and ultimately decides to navigate a relationship with the son of her mother’s sworn enemy.

I enjoyed this second installment in the Dark Olympus series, but definitely didn’t love it as much as the first. I loved Eros and Psyche as a couple, but I think a slower start to their relationship would have been more effective for the plot. Their lust seems almost instant, so it was hard for me to believe that their romance was genuine.

I also didn’t completely understand the politics between Demeter and Aphrodite. They are both members of the Thirteen and hate one another, but I didn’t entirely understand some of their decision-making. Maybe spending more time on the politics of the situation would have been more impactful.

I love Eros and Psyche––he is so protective of her and she defies the boundaries of what an influencer should look like. I can’t wait for book three in the Dark Olympus series!

January was an exciting month full of a variety of books. I can’t wait to keep reading during the upcoming months and keep working toward my reading goal.

Brianna Strohbehn is a junior at Winona State University and a small-town girl from central Iowa. Brianna is studying English, double majoring in writing and applied and professional writing with hopes of someday becoming an editor at a publishing firm. When she isn't writing, Brianna enjoys thrifting, reading, exploring her new home in Winona, and spending time with family and friends.
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