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Devouring Magic: January Book Roundup

Little note: I use Grammarly’s plagiarism detection software because duplications, while sometimes necessary, are never as good as the real thing.

I read seven books in January! I’ve had such difficulty focusing on reading the past few years. I think at first it was because of my weird fogged-out grief-brain, but then this past year I think I was just out of the habit, going instead to my Facebook feed or Twitter feed or Tumblr feed if I wanted things to read.

I’ve also been realizing that the massive stacks of books that I read for work are sometimes really hard to get into and not exactly “pleasure reading.” While I love love love to read relationship theories and gender theories and gender memoirs & narratives and sex education things in general, I also don’t necessarily curl up with those before I go to bed. I used to—but I guess that’s the difference between doing that kind of stuff as a JOB and reading them all for fun.

So around the holidays, I put out the question to friends and started accruing a huge list of indulgent novels to try out and read. I wanted to start with some easy page-turners, those “unputdownables” that I bring to the dinner table and wake up wanting to read. I got some fantastic recommendations.

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I started with Divergent, the first in a YA dystopian trilogy. The narrator, Tris, is in a society that measures by value, and at 16 they are sorted into the faction where they will stay. They do have some choice, but they also take an aptitude test to determine where they would best fit. Excellent premise! I was into it, and excited about the story, and devoured it quickly, but the writing was not so great. Thin and definitely plot-based. I would absolutely watch the film, though, and I may pick up the other two books in the series, especially when I need to remind myself that books are easy to read and I can zoom through them in a couple days.

Tiny aside: Do y’all read through a Kindle or Kindle app? I think it’s kind of fascinating that it tracks how many hours you’ve spent reading any particular book, and then it also tells you how many more hours you have to go in reading it. I don’t track time very well, I am coming to realize, so that was really interesting.

After Divergent, I almost picked up book #2 in the series, but decided to try another YA fantasy-type series instead, and I picked up Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor. Holy crap, I thought that book was amazing. From the introductory chapters that normalize Karou’s strange life to her romance and the profound reveal toward the end of the book, I was hooked. I read the second,Days of Blood & Starlight, and then was so ready to pick up the third, Dreams of Gods & Monsters, when I discovered that it’s due out this spring! Noooo! So I picked up the #2.5 novella, Night of Cake & Puppets, which was charming and sweet and fun, and I am even more into Karou’s best friend Zuzanna. I hear it’s going to be a movie, and they are going to be big hits (if Twilight and Hunger Games have any precedence, which they do). I would absolutely cast Kenzi from Lost Girl as Karou, and if they cast anybody else I might hold a protest.

I took a little break from YA fantasy after that series, because I am not sure it gets better than that, at least for right now. So I picked up The Delicious Torment: A Story of Submission, Alison Tyler’s second in her recent trilogy. If you like Fifty Shades type of erotic romance fantasy novels, I highly recommend Alison Tyler. She’s the real deal, with actual experience and solid writing talent.

I picked up Night Film by Marisha Pessl on recommendation from an old friend, one whose fiction opinions I usually trust. I couldn’t put it down. It was more dense than the others I’ve been reading, but I got so deeply engrossed in the story of the eccentric horror film director and the narrator investigative journalist dead set on exposing whatever real horrors the director was up to. The strange cast grows, and I was so impressed with the world that Pessl built. I don’t usually read such suspense or mystery, but it reminded me of the years in high school where I used to read book after book of Christopher Pike and Dean Koontz. Maybe I should try some of their more recent books again.

That is precisely the kind of reading I’m looking for these days—something somewhat light, that I can devour, but with some magic underneath it that keeps me enraptured and entranced.

I finished off the month with Jeanette Winterson’s latest memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?. I have read almost all of her books, I think I read everything up to The Stone Gods, though I’m a few behind now. I love her intense writing, her experimental style, the ways she is obsessed with love. Oh, and this book, this book. This book made me want to go back and read all the classics of English Literature A-Z that she talks about discovering, it made me want to theorize about love and loss and the lost loss and healing and grief and how we can ever recover from trauma. I marked all sorts of quotes and cried and wrote things down. I had to put it down and read some of it slowly, connecting deeply to the amount of feeling she is able to convey. After reading it, I feel like I just took a big deep breath. It made me want to pick up many more things of hers, or to re-read some of my favorites, like Gut Symmetries and Written on the Body.

Thus concludes my January book roundup! Follow me on Goodreads and see which books I’ll be reading in February.

What have YOU been reading? Anything amazing lately? Anything to recommend?

This month’s roundup is sponsored by Grammerly. I will receive an Amazon gift card in exchange for that link placed up top, but they had no say over the content that I posted. So that’s only half selling out, right?

Published by Sinclair Sexsmith

Sinclair Sexsmith (they/them) is "the best-known butch erotica writer whose kinky, groundbreaking stories have turned on countless queers" (AfterEllen), who "is in all the books, wins all the awards, speaks at all the panels and readings, knows all the stuff, and writes for all the places" (Autostraddle). ​Their short story collection, Sweet & Rough: Queer Kink Erotica, was a 2016 finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, and they are the current editor of the Best Lesbian Erotica series. They identify as a white non-binary butch dominant, a survivor, and an introvert, and they live outside Seattle as an uninvited settler on traditional, ancestral, & unceded Snoqualmie land.

10 thoughts on “Devouring Magic: January Book Roundup”

  1. Risa says:

    Oh! You totally made me want to read Jeanette Winterson again. I expect i’ll do the same: note, cry, try to savor.

    damn you.

    1. Sinclair says:


      Which is your favorite?

  2. Jamie says:

    It’s been a month of easy, comforting books for me – mostly all re-reads of dearly loved young adult books. I read the whole Divergent series (the only new books I read in January), Tamora Pierce’s Wild Magic series, and got 5 books into Harry Potter (approximately my millionth re-read).

    I read mostly on my Kobo, or with the app (for night reading), and I love the reading stats. I’m also using Goodreads to track my book challenge for the year, although I keep an Excel file as well because I can’t track a second read of a book in the same year on Goodreads.

    1. Sinclair says:

      Cool! I haven’t read the Wild Magic series, but Tamora Pierce is on my list—I LOVED the Alanna series when I was younger and haven’t read much of anything by her since. I have a few waiting for me on my ipad but I’m not sure what series they’re from, I’ll check it out. I get a little intimidated by fantasy/historical fiction, which is kind of where I tend to put her stuff, but sometimes I also really love it, so I should suck it up. :)

      Interesting about the Goodreads/second read excel file. I keep my book stats there too and have also noticed that I can’t add one when I re-read it … sometimes I can add a different edition, but only if there are multiples.

      Thanks for the ideas!

  3. MSE says:

    When you’re ready for more YA books, I suggest I am Number Four, by Pittacus Lore. I tore through it in two days, then checked every library I had access to until I found the second book (which so far just as good, but more frustrating to read because of the way it’s written). My all time favorite YA author that I got hooked on during high school is Francesca Lia Block. She writes fiction that’s on the darker side, but with a basis in Fairy Tell-esque fantasy.

    As for adult fiction,these days I’m really into any of Tess Gerritsen’s work. She wrote the books the TV series Rizzoli and Isles is oh so loosely based on, but she has several other books too.

    1. Sinclair says:

      Thank you! I will definitely check those out. I have read some Francesca Lia Block (Weetzie Bat!!) but it’s been a long time, I will see what else she’s got more recently.

  4. Claire E says:

    Jeanette Winterson is a fantastic author – I had only read the most famous of her books (Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit) before Why Be Happy, but that definitely compelled me to read more. She’s a brilliant author and has quite a good presence on TV – so energetic and witty! Quite nice to hear an accent different from standard BBC English on TV in a positive way too, but I digress…

    I started reading Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell this month. Having lived in a run of the mill, rubbish city before I moved here, I like reading books set in, or by authors with a connection to, my current one. It makes you feel more connected and you appreciate your surroundings more. Funnily enough there is a Winterson connection to this city as well – a friend of mine studying Literature actually met Jeanette Winterson at some sort of university function. Jealous doesn’t even describe my reaction.

  5. m says:

    Since you loved Laini Taylor, you should absolutely pick up her sort-of-short-stories-collection Lips Touch. Absolutely wonderful: heartbreaking and beautiful, two thumbs up, will by in hard cover despite owning it on kindle. Also! Since I delurked to talk about books: I love your blog, thank you so much for sharing.

    All my best; some random chick in Norway

  6. Sara says:

    Oh thank you for some excellent recommendations! I’m always looking for new books to read. To delve into the YA fiction a little more, the best book I read last year was, far and away, The Miseducation of Cameron Post. An absolutely lovely and at times heartbreaking read.

  7. jeezu says:

    I really, really loved Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal. I used to read Winterson in high school, and loved her then, but had drifted away from her over the last 12 years, so I was surprised by how blown away I was by Why Be Happy. Truly one of my favorite books of 2013.

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