Reviews in a Minute: The BEST January Bunch

These are some more January books! They’re like that first batch, only better because I loved them all. Some I extra loved, so let’s get to it!

The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez
Strange Exit by Parker Peevyhouse
Followers by Megan Angelo
A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen



Reviews in a Minute: The BEST January Bunch The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez
Published by Del Rey Books on January 14, 2020
Pages: 400
Format:eARC
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

A mysterious child lands in the care of a solitary woman, changing both of their lives forever in this captivating debut of connection across space and time.

"This is when your life begins."

Nia Imani is a woman out of place and outside of time. Decades of travel through the stars are condensed into mere months for her, though the years continue to march steadily onward for everyone she has ever known. Her friends and lovers have aged past her; all she has left is work. Alone and adrift, she lives only for the next paycheck, until the day she meets a mysterious boy, fallen from the sky.

A boy, broken by his past.

The scarred child does not speak, his only form of communication the beautiful and haunting music he plays on an old wooden flute. Captured by his songs and their strange, immediate connection, Nia decides to take the boy in. And over years of starlit travel, these two outsiders discover in each other the things they lack. For him, a home, a place of love and safety. For her, an anchor to the world outside of herself.

For both of them, a family.

But Nia is not the only one who wants the boy. The past hungers for him, and when it catches up, it threatens to tear this makeshift family apart.

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The Vanished Birds is such a gem. It’s slower paced, but the writing is so gorgeous, the characters so curious,and the world so intriguing that I really didn’t mind spending my time meandering though its intricacies. In fact, I was so sad when it was over, though I was glad that I’d read it of course.

The story weaves through several characters’ stories, through different times and on different worlds. Watching the world(s)-building unfurl was just phenomenal! I had no idea where the author was headed with it when I began the novel, but you soon start to put the pieces together and it all just fits perfectly. The worlds are both so like and unlike our own that it’s the perfect balance, and speaks to how humanity evolves, but at the core stays the same.

The characters are all so complex as we take these journeys with them.  Not only do the characters develop (and develop a lot) over the course of the book, but so too do the relationships. And some not for the better, which is so completely accurate and honest and in line with human relationships in general. It wasn’t just friendships, or just romance, or just family; it was every kind of relationship that was explored. From those close relationships to more fleeting ones, their impacts on the characters were showcased brilliantly across the board.

The author explores how we love, lose, grow, change, regress, and simply live as time passes by. Technology changes, our location changes, but how do we? That’s the question, and I think that if you can appreciate the slower pace and lovely writing, you’ll be glad you took the journey to find the answer.

Bottom Line: I mean, the author made me love a bird book, so that clearly says more than my words ever could.


Reviews in a Minute: The BEST January Bunch Followers by Megan Angelo
Published by Graydon House on January 14, 2020
Pages: 384
Format:ARC, eARC
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley, ALA

An electrifying story of two ambitious friends, the dark choices they make and the profound moment that changes the meaning of privacy forever.

Orla Cadden dreams of literary success, but she’s stuck writing about movie-star hookups and influencer yoga moves. Orla has no idea how to change her life until her new roommate, Floss―a striving, wannabe A-lister―comes up with a plan for launching them both into the high-profile lives they so desperately crave. But it's only when Orla and Floss abandon all pretense of ethics that social media responds with the most terrifying feedback of all: overwhelming success.

Thirty-five years later, in a closed California village where government-appointed celebrities live every moment of the day on camera, a woman named Marlow discovers a shattering secret about her past. Despite her massive popularity―twelve million loyal followers―Marlow dreams of fleeing the corporate sponsors who would do anything, even horrible things, to keep her on-screen. When she learns that her whole family history is a lie, Marlow finally summons the courage to run in search of the truth, no matter the risks.

Followers traces the paths of Orla, Floss and Marlow as they wind through time toward each other, and toward a cataclysmic event that sends America into lasting upheaval. At turns wry and tender, bleak and hopeful, this darkly funny story reminds us that even if we obsess over famous people we’ll never meet, what we really crave is genuine human connection.

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Followers is such a character driven and thought-provoking book that seems extra relevant in our current era of social media. I quite enjoyed it, and am going to tell you why (and yeah, the one thing that’s holding me back from five stars)!

What I Loved:

  • The world-building kept me guessing throughout. Funny, but in this book the world kind of is the mystery/plot. How did we get to the point where the book takes place? The slow build of secrets made me want to keep reading, as I was excited for the next tidbit to unfurl.
  • The character development is constant and fabulous. Because they don’t just change in terms of betterment and growth. No, there’s plenty of backsliding, which totally feels authentic (because don’t we all go through such periods?). They’re beyond flawed, and at times you may flat out not like some of them (or all of them). But then they’ll do something to showcase their humanity, and it all fits into place.
  • The relationships ebb and flow as well, and they play such a huge role in the characters’ stories. The characters’ connections to one another also come into focus as the story moves along. Though you know they’re connected, you don’t figure out how and why until much later. But everyone indeed has something to contribute, a reason for their story being told.
  • It’s definitely thought provoking. Basically, if you had to choose all-or-nothing with social media/internet, which would you choose? Could you have your life dictated by it? Could you live completely without that connection? Does it have to be so absolute? So many questions arise about how and why we connect with each other, and some glaring problems with today’s interactions.

What I Didn’t:

  • It starts off kind of slow. If you’re the kind of person who is hoping to dive into some action, hope again. It’s a very character driven book overall, which I generally love, but it starts off a bit too slow. I think the major thing was, it took me some time to invest in the characters. When I did, I was all in, and loved reading. So if you are iffy, give it time, because it was wholly worth it by the end.

Bottom Line: Fabulous character development in a very timely plot and setting makes the slower start and pace completely worth it.


Reviews in a Minute: The BEST January Bunch Strange Exit by Parker Peevyhouse
Published by Tor Teen on January 14, 2020
Pages: 288
Format:eARC, ARC
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley, Won

Seventeen-year-old Lake spends her days searching a strange, post-apocalyptic landscape for people who have forgotten one very important thing: this isn’t reality. Everyone she meets is a passenger aboard a ship that’s been orbiting Earth since a nuclear event. The simulation that was supposed to prepare them all for life after the apocalypse has trapped their minds in a shared virtual reality and their bodies in stasis chambers.

No one can get off the ship until all of the passengers are out of the sim, and no one can get out of the sim unless they believe it's a simulation. It's up to Lake to help them remember.

When Lake reveals the truth to a fellow passenger, seventeen-year-old Taren, he joins her mission to find everyone, persuade them that they’ve forgotten reality, and wake them up. But time’s running out before the simulation completely deconstructs, and soon Taren’s deciding who’s worth saving and who must be sacrificed for the greater good. Now, Lake has no choice but to pit herself against Taren in a race to find the secret heart of the sim, where something waits that will either save them or destroy them all.

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Um excuse me, do we all see those comps? Strange Exit is Parker Peevyhouse’s next suspenseful, near-future, stand-alone thriller, perfect for fans of Kass Morgan’s The 100 and Patrick Ness’s More Than This”. Yeah, that is obviously going to the top of my TBR. And I will say, that it absolutely had vibes of those two books, so while it’s high praise, it’s also earned.

This is my favorite of Peevyhouse’s books (each one better than the last actually which is really making me extra excited for her next one). Also like her other books, it’s very hard to review without veering into spoiler territory. But I’ll try!

What I Liked:

  • So it really does give off those The 100 vibes! Definitely more the Kass Morgan version than the Jason Rothenburg version (ie, a little tamer which is totally fine, just worth noting) but it’s set in space as these kids are trying to get back to Earth after a cataclysmic event. Now, it’s safe to return, only there’s a holdup. And I am absolutely a sucker for this type of story, so I was loving it!
  • It’s fast-paced and engaging, making it a quick read. Honestly I needed to know what was going to be come of (possibly) what was left of humanity. And sure, I wanted to know for our individual main characters Lake and Taren, but I won’t pretend I didn’t care a wee bit more about the human race 🤷‍♀️
  • The simulations were really imaginative! Like, what would you dream up? I think it shed so much light on each character (even some of the more minor ones) where they’d choose to go and such. So fascinating!
  • There were twists! I shan’t talk about them but things definitely didn’t get boring, ever.
  • I loved the ferocity of which Lake cared for her sister. I mean. Bellamy Blake, anyone?

What I Didn’t:

  • Okay I did need more worldbuilding. Like, what I got I loved, I just needed more. More details on the end of the world, and then like, more details about after. I know I am being vague, but it’s on purpose and I just wanted more details okay? Maybe a sequel? I’d totally be up for a sequel!
  • I would have liked to be a bit more connected to the characters. I liked them well enough, I just didn’t feel like I truly knew them, you know? Which is kind of to be expected, at least to some extent, as they’re in simulations and just trying to not die most of the time.

Bottom Line: Fast paced, fun, and entertaining, I’d definitely recommend it, even if sci-fi isn’t usually your jam, as it isn’t overwhelming for the casual sci-fi reader.


Reviews in a Minute: The BEST January Bunch A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen
Published by Mira Books on January 14, 2020
Pages: 400
Format:eARC
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Edelweiss


How do you start over after the end of the world?

"Not just an apocalyptic thriller, but also a timely reminder of what is most important in life—family, love, and hope." —Peng Shepherd, author of The Book of M

Six years after a global pandemic wiped out most of the planet’s population, the survivors are rebuilding the country, split between self-governing cities, hippie communes and wasteland gangs.

In postapocalyptic San Francisco, former pop star Moira has created a new identity to finally escape her past—until her domineering father launches a sweeping public search to track her down. Desperate for a fresh start herself, jaded event planner Krista navigates the world on behalf of those too traumatized to go outside, determined to help everyone move on—even if they don’t want to. Rob survived the catastrophe with his daughter, Sunny, but lost his wife. When strict government rules threaten to separate parent and child, Rob needs to prove himself worthy in the city’s eyes by connecting with people again.

Krista, Moira, Rob and Sunny are brought together by circumstance, and their lives begin to twine together. But when reports of another outbreak throw the fragile society into panic, the friends are forced to finally face everything that came before—and everything they still stand to lose.

Because sometimes having one person is enough to keep the world going.

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I genuinely don’t know how to do this book justice via review. It was my best book of 2019, and I straight up still think about it. Especially when the world seems bleak, and I wonder what will become of us, I can’t help but wonder who I’d be in the face of the apocalypse.

And that’s the truly brilliant part of this book: It feels like it could be you and yours at the end of days. The characters are so beyond relatable that I don’t know how to probably explain it to you. They could be any of us. They’re flawed yet decent and just trying to make it through. They don’t always make the  best choices, but the reader always can sympathize with why they made their choices.

This leads us to another phenomenal thing about A Beginning at the End: the gray morality I so adore. In decisions both small and large, our characters have to navigate their new circumstances colliding with their existing belief systems. What they may have never expected to do in the Before, they’re finding themselves doing After. Their responses, for better or worse, are so honest. We’d all make mistakes. We’d (mostly) all do good. And each of the characters, from the child to the adults, are struggling with figuring out who they’re going to be in the new world.

And the final piece we need to talk about before I leave you to go buy this book immediately is that the world-building was the most eerily realistic post-apocalyptic setting I have ever read. Because the truth is, we all would crave the return to “normalcy” after the end. And that’s what so many of these folks are after: what they’ve lost. But what is the cost? And can anything ever go back, or can we only move forward?

Bottom Line: I loved every minute of this book and you need to read it, that’s all, just do the thing. I just want to start throwing it at people, it’s perfect for just about everyone to read.

Have you read any of these books? Plan to? Let us chat about them!

Posted January 16, 2020 by Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight in In a Minute, Review / 25 Comments


25 responses to “Reviews in a Minute: The BEST January Bunch

  1. As soon as I sawThe Vanished Birds, I was surprised you read it. You know, you and birds. Then, when you said the author made you like a book about birds, I cackled, though, that’s quite a feat, given your aversion for birds. Chen’s book is being lauded all over the place. I remember you liking his last book too. Glad his followup did not disappoint.

    • Bwhahah right!? Like what are the chances!? And birds ARE a part of the story, like actual birds! But I really liked how it was handled, and there were no bird people so I could live with it! (Actually, I am staring to think that it’s birds AND magic in combination that are irking me hah). And YES I loved Chen’s first book, and this one is even better! He deserves ALL the accolades!

  2. Danielle Hammelef

    I just started A Beginning at the End last night. I loved Mike Chen’s first book and am so happy you gave this one a high rating.

  3. Oooh, I’ve only heard of one of these. I’m so curious about Mike Chen’s new book, but I tried Here and Now and Again and felt it was very meh, and now I’m hesitant to try A Beginning at the End. But you liked it so much, and I’ve heard other good things about it, and now I’m so conflicted. xD Strange Exit sounds really good, though.

    • Ooooh I am so sad that you didn’t like Here and Now and Then! It’s one of my faves! I liked the characters in this one better I think, if that helps? Well, I overall liked this one more though I did love the first one too. Maybe see if anyone who didn’t love H&N&T tried this one? I have found that’s a good way to decide!

  4. The Vanished Birds looks like it is going to be a good one for me. I really like the sound of it being a slow unfurling, but very intense and immersive kind of read. If slow reads are like that, I can totally get behind them. I am always interested in books involving social media as a social media user (possibly addict) myself, so I will have to get to Followers! I still need to read another Mike Chen book I have, but I have such high hopes for it. I am so going to be reading this one afterward especially if you value it so highly!!

    Olivia-S @ Olivia’s Catastrophe

  5. I wish Peevyhouse got more recognition. I didn’t love The Echo Room, but I really enjoyed both Where Future Ends and Strange Exit. I loved the sims in the latter, but I agree about the book needing more world-building…plus the ending was quite abrupt (and one of the main characters didn’t get closure). Regardless, as I said, I really enjoyed it, and I was captivated by Lake’s “ferocity” (great choice of word LOL) in caring for Willow.

    I’m on the fence about The Vanished Birds (not because of the birds LOL 😉). I was hoping to request it on NG and eventually buy it later, but it disappeared for good…it isn’t even listed as “Previously on NG”.

  6. Oh my goodness, am I seeing this right?? You liking a bird book?? 😂 All kidding aside The Vanished Birds looks really good! At first, I thought the synopsis sounded a lil’ bit tropey, but then it pulled through with a twist at the end. Can’t wait to read it! Lovely reviews as always! 💕💕

  7. Ahh, I’m so, so curious about this Follower book, it sounds REALLY good, I love these kind of stories dealing with social media a whole lot, and I don’t mind a slower start if, in the end, it’s all worth it! Thank you for the wonderful reviews!! 🙂

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