Reading Notes: Halfway Through the Reading Year

We’re over halfway through the year, and I’m just over halfway through my Goodreads challenge! This year I challenged myself to read 50 books.

As I did for 2014.

And 2013.

I’ve always been two books shy of my goal, but this year! This is the one!

No but seriously. I will this year.

Anyway, 27 books into the reading year and four currently on the go, I feel like I should say a word or two about a few of them. I’ve read a lot of filler books, but there’ve been some gems along the way that made my blood rush, sucked me in, and sometimes crunched me up and spat me back out. Stuff that made me feel.

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Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.

Worst Novel: Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Let’s start off with the bad tasting stuff first, yes? Not even the good-for-you bad tasting stuff. Just bad for you bad stuff. I’ve read a number of books this year that I was surprised were even published: YA books Frostfire by Amanda Hocking Dream a Little Dream by Kerstin Gier were so poorly written I DNF*’d them. You can’t win every library visit, but the time I picked those I almost lost all hope in publishing. Still, for the worst novel I completed, Discovery of Witches is the one. It was recommended to me by a friend, who adored it–and many people did, as I’m aware, but I just found the writing to be very poor quality for adult fiction.  Or perhaps I mean poor editing: who let slide all the unnecessary detailing? Do I care about every single simple outfit the main character puts on? Do I need to be reminded every other page about how witches and vampires don’t get along? Oh, and the info dumps. Jesus Christ. Obviously there was a lot of information to explain about the supernatural world and it was nice that Harkness took the time to explain the characters’ pasts, but a lot of the time it just felt like info dumping–especially when the info dump would be a part of the dialogue, rather than as a part of the narration. It just came out very awkward and unnatural.

That being said, A Discovery of Witches stands out as an incredibly researched supernatural piece, and casual history fans will enjoy all the little peeks into the past that certain vampires have lived through. There’s also a lot of supernatural biology talk, so history and science intermingle beautifully and add real depth to the story and world. You don’t really get a lot of references to science and history that aren’t simply superficial glosses in supernatural books, no matter what market they’re aimed at, so in this light Harkness’ debut novel is a treat.

Still, the more interesting elements of A Discovery of Witches did not help me overcome a general distaste for the story and writing itself. The plot seriously dragged in many parts of the novel, and again, the info dumping continuously got on my nerves. Moreover, the poor behaviour of the male lead is explained by typical behaviour of his species, his headstrong personality, and history. He is not the product of his generation because he is the product of Western history (I won’t say how old he is, but let’s just say he’s older than the typical vampire in a contemporary supernatural novel). But while his behaviour is then seen as realistic, I still felt as if it only served to “explain away” poor behaviour. The plot eludes to a fated bigger picture as for the couple being together rather than a genuine romance, but I still couldn’t get behind the their love.

Also, as a final, personal note: the female protagonist is nearing forty and is portrayed in the beginning as sensible and erudite. She also refers to her father, who died when she was seven, as “Daddy” in conversation. This irked me to no end while reading. In the second half of the novel I felt like she was, emotionally, a child, and despite her hardships I could only feel annoyed.

*DNF: Did not finish

Erin-Morgenstern-The-Night-Circus

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called “Le Cirque des Reves,” and it is only open at night.
But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus performers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

Best YA: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I didn’t think The Night Circus was considered YA, but that’s where I found it catalogued in the library a few months ago. I’ve been hearing about the critically acclaimed novel for a few years now, and friends have told me their thoughts on it. Some didn’t like the style of writing or the fact that it jumped around in time; some loved it. I also have to admit the promo for the novel wore me down after what, four years (hello, Chapters, I’m looking at you)? So I finally buckled down and gave it a read.

The Night Circus took me a while to get through, but I really did enjoy it. The imagery of the circus is mesmerizing and the food–the food! I always found myself excited to read about the feasts Chandresh, the Circus’ proprietor, held in his manor, but maybe that’s just me being my foodie self. (Talk about inspiring! What I wouldn’t give to throw a party like that.) Morgenstern’s novel is stuffed full of magic and I devoured all of it.

Much like the clocks Herr Friedrick Thiessen creates, I found The Night Circus to be uniquely enchanting on the surface–who wouldn’t love to attend Le Cirque des Rêves?– but ultimately about the inner workings of something much bigger than two magicians-in-training, or two master magicians. It’s about people, and it’s about spaces, and it’s about how people make spaces special. It’s about the parts of something big never being bigger than the thing itself.

raven-boys


Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.

His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

Fangirl Favourite: The Raven Cycle Series by Maggie Stiefvater

I’m a fangirl, but I don’t typically feel fangirly towards most of the hyped-up YA stuff. Cassandra Clare’s two series do absolutely nothing for me, for example. Yet I found I could get super seriously feels-y about the world Stiefvater has built in The Raven Cycle series. Cabeswater, 300 Fox Way, Blue and her family, and the Raven Boys: Gansey, Adam, Ronan, and Noah.  RONAN LYNCH everybody! I die. I die.

But beyond my fangirl love (Ronaaaan!!) of the Raven Cycle world, I’d recommend it to people who like their characters flawed but well-intentioned, growing, and most importantly believable. I’d also recommend it to YA readers who like getting invested in settings.

Three of the four Raven Cycle books have been published so far, and in each Stiefvater covers different themes: in book two, The Dream Thieves, she explores the multi-layered struggle of identity and acceptance. There’s a lot more to read into the books should the reader choose to look for more than just a quick story.

I recognize that The Raven Cycle series is not for everybody, though; a fair amount of readers who prefer Stiefvater’s earlier Mercy Falls trilogy haven’t enjoyed The Raven Cycle as much. I’m on the other end, having snored through Shiver (the first of the Mercy Falls books) and having become wholly engrossed in The Raven Cycle.

While The Raven Cycle books haven’t been the absolute best books I’ve read this year, they’ve been the ones that drew out the most obsessive part of me. Can’t wait for The Raven King to come out next year!

PS: The synopsis to The Raven Boys does not do the series any justice whatsoever.

Asylum-1

Simon Doonan, “the David Sedaris of the style universe” (The Boston Globe), pens a hilarious collection of autobiographical essays in this bitingly funny valentine to the fashion industry.

Favourite Non-Fic: Asylum by Simon Doonan

Doonan isn’t the best writer, but he doesn’t need to be to tell hilarious stories about life in the fashion world. I like reading mags like Vogue and W in my spare time and I very, VERY casually keep up with couture so this book is my kind of thing. Doonan has a great voice and told stories in a way that always made me smirk or smile. I tried reading the collection of short stories only once every so often so as to have something to look forward to whenever I needed a bookish pick-me-up, but all good things must come to an end, and I’ve finally finished Asylum.

Fashion-world lovers who want a laugh, Asylum is an easy read and makes for perfect vacation reading.

 unaccustomed_earth

In the stunning title story, Ruma, a young mother in a new city, is visited by her father who carefully tends her garden–where she later unearths evidence of a love affair he is keeping to himself. In “A Choice of Accommodations,” a couple’s romantic getaway weekend takes a dark turn at a party that lasts deep into the night. In “Only Goodness,” a woman eager to give her younger brother the perfect childhood she never had is overwhelmed by guilt, anguish and anger when his alcoholism threatens her family. And in “Hema and Kaushik,” a trio of linked stories–a luminous, intensely compelling elegy of life, death, love and fate–we follow the lives of a girl and boy who, one fateful winter, share a house in Massachusetts. They travel from innocence to experience on separate, sometimes painful paths, until destiny brings them together again years later in Rome.

Unaccustomed Earth is rich with the author’s signature gifts: exquisite prose, emotional wisdom and subtle renderings of the most intricate workings of the heart and mind. It is the work of a writer at the peak of her powers.

Best writing: Jhumpra Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth

Lahiri writes about all the things I’m scared of and more, to the point where I’m scared to read more of her work because it all just feels so real and also I know her other books, which a friend recommended me, are generally unhappy ones.

The contemporary struggles of other human beings has never been felt so tangible than in these short stories. The life of immigrant Sri Lankans carving a new part of their life in an unwelcoming America may seem niche, but (perhaps obviously, too) they’re not. Lahiri breathes such life into each story that I cannot compare her writing to any other author, classic or contemporary. Her writing is very beautiful and very real and it really kind of sucks sometimes, because these short stories are generally very melancholy.

But I simply cannot get over them.

Lies-Locke-UK

An orphan’s life is harsh — and often short — in the island city of Camorr, built on the ruins of a mysterious alien race. But born with a quick wit and a gift for thieving, Locke Lamora has dodged both death and slavery, only to fall into the hands of an eyeless priest known as Chains — a man who is neither blind nor a priest.

A con artist of extraordinary talent, Chains passes his skills on to his carefully selected “family” of orphans — a group known as the Gentlemen Bastards. Under his tutelage, Locke grows to lead the Bastards, delightedly pulling off one outrageous confidence game after another. Soon he is infamous as the Thorn of Camorr, and no wealthy noble is safe from his sting.

Passing themselves off as petty thieves, the brilliant Locke and his tightly knit band of light-fingered brothers have fooled even the criminal underworld’s most feared ruler, Capa Barsavi. But there is someone in the shadows more powerful — and more ambitious — than Locke has yet imagined.

Known as the Gray King, he is slowly killing Capa Barsavi’s most trusted men — and using Locke as a pawn in his plot to take control of Camorr’s underworld. With a bloody coup under way threatening to destroy everyone and everything that holds meaning in his mercenary life, Locke vows to beat the Gray King at his own brutal game — or die trying…

Favourite novel: The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

I realize I just said that Lahiri is one of the best writers whose works I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading, and I stand by that remark. Scott Lynch is not as good a writer as Lahiri. BUT. The Lies of Locke Lamora is hands down my favourite read this year so far.

Adventure! Intrigue!

An awesome fantasy world! Kick-ass characters!

Revenge!!!

Sign me up for one hundred more, please. Lies is everything I look for in an exciting book, and I hate that I can’t binge read the entire Gentleman Bastard Sequence because after the September 2015 release of The Thorn of Emberlain, there will still be three more books yet to be published.

If you read fantasy, you’ve probably already read Lies. I’m a bit behind the times, having only read it early this year, but I’m super grateful I did. If I had to sum up the novel in five words, my reading of it would be “love, loyalty, and revenge,” which are basically my three favourite things. But that’s just what I loved most about it, and what I saw as its central draw (aside from a solidly built and beautifully described Venetian-styled fantasy city, as well as its fascinating culture). There’s a little something for every adventure-loving reader in The Lies of Locke Lamora, so give the book a whirl if you find the time!

*Non-romantic love

That just about wraps up some highlights (and one lowlight) of my reading year so far. What have you been reading? If you have any good book recommendations, tell me about them because I’m always looking for good books to read. I’ve got 5 months of the year left and I hope to eat up some fantastic stories in the meantime!

Cheers,

Miriam

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