To be fair, we’re more than a quarter of the way through the year now (and it’s still no warmer??) but I have a soft spot for alliteration so we’re going to stick with the quarter quell. This year, as you know, my aim is to read better rather than read more, so when Goodreads asked me how many books I wanted to read this year, I went for an arbitrary 26. That’s one every two weeks so I figured it couldn’t be too hard.
So far I’m ahead(ish) of my numerical goal but how about my other goal? Here’s what I’ve been reading:
THE INVISIBLE LIBRARY
I can’t remember whether I read this in the New Year or if it was the week between Christmas and New Year. It all sort of blurs, but I thought I’d add it in because the cover is beautiful and anyone with a name like Genevieve Cogman deserves a mention, right?
It’s about a girl who works for a library that exists between worlds and collects and preserves fiction (particularly variations on the same book or rare copies) from the various alternate universes. But when Irene is sent to steal a dangerous book, she discovers that the world she’s been sent to is infested with Chaos and the book has already been stolen.
It’s a brilliant idea and I took well to the whole thing but it wasn’t very long so it felt a little undeveloped and hurried in parts. I’d still pick up the second book for holiday reading though.
THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES
I discovered Agatha Christie last year when I picked up a copy of Murder on the Orient Express in a charity shop. I twigged what was going on pretty quickly (the same with The Mysterious Affair at Styles) but I still enjoyed it. Styles is the first Poirot book and I listened to it as an audiobook.
The wealthy Emily Inglethorpe is poisoned and Poirot must work out who did it and how they entered (and escaped) her locked room. Like I said, I worked out who did it early on, although I did have a moment of doubt towards the middle. Poirot is one of my favourite literary detectives and it makes me a little sad that he is often eclipsed by the likes of Holmes.
As a child, I loved the Chronicles of Pern. The Harper Hall books were particular favourites. The main character was a girl who was musical but didn’t fit in with the people in her town so I guess I identified with her in some part, but the world of Pern itself was enthralling. As dragon enthusiast for as long as I can remember, there was no way I wasn’t going to read those books and enjoy them.
Dragon Song is the first of the Pern books about Menoly. In this particular volume, she is living at a sea hold where her father, the master of the village, will not allow her to practice her gift for music because she is a girl. But before he died, the resident Harper had sent the Master Harper some of the songs Menoly wrote, neglecting to mention she was a girl. This leads to the new Harper desperately searching for this talented musician and being unable to find her. In the end, Menoly runs away from home, ends up bonding with a brood of mini-dragons. It remains one of my favourites. Anne McCaffrey is one of the best sci-fi and fantasy writers of her generation and it turns out I still find her books entertaining after all these years.
THE COLOUR OF BEE LARKHAM’S MURDER
This book was hyped. Like, really hyped. I saw so many ads for it and people gushing about how great it was and how it was a masterpiece and all that, that when Twitter reminded me for the umpteenth time that it was only 99p for the eBook, I downloaded it to my phone. I loved the concept but I can’t say the same about the characters.
Bee Larkham has been murdered and Jasper is convinced that he did it. But Jasper is faceblind and acutely synaesthetic (amongst other issues) so even if he had seen someone in the kitchen getting rid of Bee Larkham’s body, he can only assume it was his dad because he was wearing the same clothes.
The narrative voice is great and I liked Jasper but none of the other characters were likeable in the slightest. You’ve got Bee, who’s having an affair with a fifteen year old (why was that not highlighted as a problem?) and Jasper’s dad who just wants Jasper to not be autistic, then the rest of the neighbours who are as bad as each other. The premise is great: a faceblind kid is the only eyewitness to a crime, but there were too many problems with the content and style of this book for me to enjoy it. That’s not to say you wouldn’t though. Just be aware that it comes with some serious content warnings.
(Titles East in the USA) Another re-read, based on the fairy tale East of the Sun West of the Moon. I loved this book as a child and got a second-hand copy on a whim a couple of months back. Once more, I enjoyed it thoroughly although I was more able to see its weaknesses now I’m more experienced with writing myself.
North Child by Edith Pattou is not a masterpiece. It’s a pretty average book but it was the character of Rose and the idea of her helping the bear because she cared that I liked. There were plenty of other characters that were great, like Tuki and Thor and although parts of the story were far-fetched, all fairy tales are.
One thing I didn’t think of until it was pointed out to me was the problematic nature of the story. A polar bear comes and steals away a young woman who then has to live with him for a year in order to break a curse. Nothing happens, he’s a polar bear by day and a man by night and the man sleeps on the other side of the bed but she’s forbidden to talk to him or see his face or anything because of the curse. I can see how that might be an issue but I honestly never thought about it as a kid because I didn’t grow up in a Me Too culture and hadn’t heard of Stockholm Syndrome till I was in my teens. I still liked the book. I’d still recommend it. I know a girl who’s doing a retelling of East of the Sun, West of the Moon and is changing it a little to remove the potential dodginess. It’s taking a lot of self-control to wait for her to write it and not to beg her to read what she’s written so far.
AVENGERS: UNDER SIEGE (EPIC COLLECTION #16)
Like audiobooks, graphic novels count. I liked comics before Marvel became a cinematic franchise and would read all the comics I could find in our children’s library. Sometimes I read comics because they’re refreshing after you’ve been reading heavy blocks of text for ages.
In this comic, there are bad guys and they take over the Avengers Mansion and chaos ensues etc. It’s pretty run of the mill for a superhero story but it’s enjoyable and the art is good. I’m grateful for a younger brother who keeps me well supplied with graphic novels. I also read Civil War this year — the book. I was undecided which side I fell on in the movie (it’s nothing like the book) but in the comic, I’m definitely Team Cap. For so many reasons.
PERCY JACKSON: BATTLE OF THE LABYRINTH
One of my classmates at uni loved the Percy Jackson series (even though she was thirty) because she said it was a nice break from reading so much heavy Theology. Fair enough but I was cynical. As it happens, I don’t mind the Percy Jackson franchise. The movies weren’t that good, which made me reluctant to bother with the books but that was a mistake.
I listened to this one on audio and although I really didn’t like the narrator, the story itself was good. By this book, I was beginning to have sympathy for Luke. I didn’t take well to Rachel but I loved Mrs O’Leary. I have a major problem with reading a lot of novels because I find them predictable but although I guessed who Quintus was, I still enjoyed the story. I’ve always had an interest in mythology, legends, and folktales so Rick Riordan’s modern take on the Greek myths is clever and refreshing.
PERCY JACKSON: THE LAST OLYMPIAN
Is it me or do these books get a little scarier as they go on? It’s good though because children who read these books as they came out will have grown up along with Percy. This was another audiobook with the same narrator, sadly, but I was keen to listen to/read the climax of the series. One of Rick Riordan’s strengths is that he makes each book a self-contained story in its own right but there is a strong overarching story line to the whole series that brings them together. I loved that many things which seemed random or appeared to be loose ends in other books were neatly tied up in the end.
Again, I called it with Rachel’s ending when I learned about Luke’s mum. I had also been guessing about Luke since book four, although I wasn’t sure how he was going to do what he did. Percy’s relationship with his step-dad made me happy too because so many step-parents in fiction are awful. It was a strong end to the Percy Jackson series and it had me pretty tense at points. Overall, my favourite character arc was Grover, another of my favourite supporting characters was Tyson, and my favourite mythological group was the Party Ponies. They’re decent books.
Last but not least, a book that everyone was raving about. At least it felt that way. It was all over Instagram and Twitter (or maybe it was a new one in the series, I’m not sure). There were a whole bunch of people raving about this book (people who I knew and people on social media) but I was on the fence. I’m wary of YA with ‘strong’ female heroes, I tend to find them overly aggressive, snarky, whiny, and indecisive (damning, I know). Nevertheless, I gave the audiobook a shot.
It was an interesting idea, very similar in premise to an earlier book called Red Rising. I found Red Queen confusing for a long time because I couldn’t work out what sort of time period it was supposed to be set in, I was getting a lot of mixed signals. But then, I was getting a lot of mixed signals from various characters too, they seemed inconsistent. Mare felt like just another Katniss Everdeen/Tris/what’s-her-face-from-Maze-Runner and she drove me nuts. She was all the things I mentioned above that I hate in characters but are supposed to be what makes a woman ‘strong’.
It wasn’t the worst book I’ve ever read but it was thoroughly underwhelming and felt like a half-hearted attempt at flirting with the YA dystopian market. It could have been so much more. And if one more character smirked, murmured, or wondered, it would have been to the Iron Bowl with it.
WRAP-UP AND STILL-READING
So, am I reading ‘better’ this year? It seems like it’s still up for debate. I want to say yes but I fear I would be lying, between Bee Larkham’s Murder and Red Queen. It hasn’t been a high-brow year so far, or a year of classics, but apart from a couple of books, I have been enjoying it. At the moment, I have several books in a state of half-finished abandonment:
- Twelve Ways Your Phone Is Changing You — Tony Reinke
- A Natural History of Dragons — Marie Brennan
- Bridge of Clay — Markus Zusak
- Asrian Skies — Anne Wheeler (slow because I’m reading on Kindle)
Then there are the two that I’m actively reading:
- Xenocide — Orson Scott Card (Ender Saga #3)
- The Fountain of Life — John Flavel
These two are a pleasure to read but I’m not getting through them terribly quickly because I’m so busy at the moment. There are of course other books that are on my radar. I’m part way through my critique partner’s book about a girl whose husband is murdered and she ends up falling in with a band of pirates, and I’m beta-reading a Peter Pan retelling/continuation which, let’s just say I wish someone would get a wiggle on and publish it so that I can publicly review it and buy a hard copy of my own. I also read a novella called The Reluctant Godfather by Allison Tebo but I’ll give that a proper review at some point.
- What have you read so far this year?
- What has your favourite read of the year been?
- Are there any books coming out this year that you can’t wait to read?