Bookish round-up: February 2018

As far as the weather is concerned, February is, often, an unpleasant sort of month. If it isn’t raining, it’s probably gearing up to snow, and the days are short on light and prone to being inhospitably freezing.

But, as far as reading is concerned, February is the perfect month. The poor, unreliable weather means that outdoor pursuits are usually non-existent, and, when they do take place, they are uninviting and frequently postponed. On the other hand, indoor pursuits, such as reading, are both infinitely more preferable, and strongly recommended during particularly bad weather, for safety’s sake.

A strong advocate of safety, I enjoyed February very much.

23403402The first book I read was A Darker Shade of Magic by V E Schwab. This book came to my attention through the wonderful world of Instagram, and I am so very glad that it did. It’s brilliantly written, with wonderfully descriptive prose, interesting characters, and superb, detail-oriented world-building. Every part of A Darker Shade of Magic is expertly composed, and the richness of the setting engages the reader from the very first sentence. Books like this – dynamic, exciting, unpredictable and innovative – are the very reason that I love the fantasy genre so much. I gave A Darker Shade of Magic 5 stars.

Second was Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder. I first read Poison Study years ago, and this year, wanted to experience that world again. While the reader is presented with more than sufficient detail to comprehend the particulars of the novel, Snyder’s prose is sparse, with little emphasis on descriptive imagery. The factual aspects of the setting, and in regards to world-building, are not lacking, but more could have been done to flesh it out, and imbue it with greater vibrancy. That said, the plot and characters are engaging, the dialogue is consistently realistic, and the merging of fantasy elements with Synder’s detailed, thorough world-building, works well. The narrative is given depth and nuance by those very details, compensating for the arguably sparse, almost simplistic, prose. I gave Poison Study 4 stars.

I then read The Traitor’s Niche by Ismail Kadare (translated by John Hodgson). I still don’t really know what to think of it. It’s a very peculiar book, incredibly morbid, and uncompromisingly dark. Reading it isn’t exactly an comfortable experience. But it is intriguing, with a considerable amount of philosophy held within its pages. Despite its subject, it doesn’t verge upon horror; instead, it provides a sophisticated exploration of human nature, bolstered both by an attention to detail, and a sincere willingness to delve, unflinchingly, into the darkest, deepest depths of the human condition. The Traitor’s Niche brings into sharp, discomfiting, and often shocking relief, the relationship between the mind and the body, and, even, the relationship between the head and the rest of the body, and ventures into a variety of topics including the importance of language in regards to culture. I gave The Traitor’s Niche 5 stars.

910154After The Traitor’s Niche, I turned to Stolen by Kelley Armstrong, which belongs to my favourite genre (urban fantasy). I have always enjoyed the way in which Armstrong weaves the supernatural into the unfailingly ordinary in regards both to her plot and to her characters, and this is equally the case in Stolen. Given voice by dynamic, first person prose, which lends it a considerable sense of personality, its detailed imagery, intriguing characters and engaging world-building all contribute to the presentation of an assured, well-paced narrative. Two long-standing themes from Armstrong’s work – that is, the treatment of women and found families – also appearestablishing the nuanced humanity of the characters and an extra dimension to the plot. I gave Stolen 5 stars.

Finally, no bookish round-up could ever be complete without a nod to my ever-expanding TBR shelf.

In February, I added:

  1. Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi. I want to read more books written by women, and, in particular, by women with difficult cultural experiences to my own. The reviews that I have read of Freshwater are overwhelmingly positive; most suggest that the reader was overwhelmed in entirety.

  2. A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic #2). I added it to the list as soon as I finished A Darker Shade of Magic, which, given everything I said above, shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Newly introduced to Schwab’s work, I now can’t wait to delve into the rest of the series.

  3. All the Names they Used for God: Stories by Anjali Sachdeva. Again, I want to read more books written by women of varying experiences, and this has been given glowing reviews. It seems likely to be an exceptional read, and a journey that I’m very much looking forward to embarking on.

  4. Jagannath by Karin Tidbeck. I like my books dark and atmospheric, preferably with an outpouring of strange strong to overwhelm the unwary trespasser. This collection of stories seems likely to deliver on all fronts. As far as I’m concerned, “here there by monsters” is an invitation to settle in for my favourite kind of reading experience.

  5. The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale. For similar reasons to the above, I’m interested in reading The Toymakers – that is, for magic, for mystery, and for the unexplained sparkle partially hidden behind half-locked doors. At the very least the chance to explore a world that isn’t my own, and to step into a text in which imagination flows free.

 


My most recent book review was of Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Read it here.

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Bookish round-up: January 2018

Books read: 

  • Equal Rites (Discworld #3) by Terry Pratchett
    Genre: Fantasy
    My rating: 4 stars
  • The Bone Season (The Bone Season #1) by Samantha Shannon
    Genre: Fantasy, YA
    My rating: 4 stars

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I’m a dedicated Terry Pratchett fan. I love his characters, his settings, his consistently inventive turn of phrase, and his prose. Further, his books are a masterclass in wordplay, his use of parody is flawless, and his questioning (and dismissal) of well-established fantasy novel tropes is undoubtedly refreshing – and often a relief.

As such, the fact that I enjoyed reading Equal Rites probably won’t come as much of a surprise. It has all the key hallmarks of a Pratchett novel – that is, it’s clever, it’s entertaining, and it overturns a not inconsiderable number of the aforementioned fantasy novel tropes, as well as being populated with interesting characters and a rich variety of settings – all of which I enjoy. Further, while it arguably has a less firmly defined, rich plot than Pratchett’s later work, it has a clear narrative structure and plenty of depth.

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I also enjoyed reading Samantha Shannon’s The Bone Season. It’s an excellent urban fantasy novel, in which recognisable modern developments and advancements are seamlessly merged with creative supernatural elements. Further, its intriguing plot is supported by thorough, detail-oriented world-building, which stretches from politics to the justice system and the criminal underworld, and covers cultural beliefs, prejudices, and discrimination, providing a firm foundation for the subsequent narrative. The basic outline of the plot doesn’t present a completely unfamiliar pattern, but Shannon’s detailed world-building, and the flair with which she brings the supernatural elements of her narrative to life, easily compensate for any deficiencies in that area.

Added to TBR shelf:

  1. Red Rising (Red Rising Saga #1) by Pierce Brown, which came to my attention when Iron Gold was published this year. I’m a big fan of sci-fi, and this series promises to deliver on everything that I enjoy.

  2. The Bear and the Nightingale (Winternight Trilogy #1) by Katherine Arden, which was recommended to me by a reader with excellent taste. It looks like it will fit perfectly into my favoured ‘weird and wonderful’ category, and has excellent reviews.

  3. The Mime Order (Bone Season #2) by Samantha Shannon, which I added to the list as soon as I finished The Bone Season. I wasn’t previously familiar with Shannon’s work, and I’m looking forward to reading more of it this year.

 

Bookish round-up: December 2017

Books read: 2

  • Star of the Sea by Joseph O’Connor
    Genre: Historical fiction
    My rating: 4 stars

I really enjoyed reading Star of the Sea. Rich with detail, its prose draws the reader effortlessly into the setting and the time period, establishing not only the historical significance of the events, and the position of the characters in relation to them, but also the associated frustrations felt and the difficulties experienced by all kinds of people at that time. Star of the Sea brings that period of history to life with great confidence, and with an engaging plot and prose, is well worth a read for anyone who enjoys a little (or a lot) of history with their fiction.

But Gormenghast is one of the strangest series of books that I have ever read, and one of the most enjoyable. Its prose – equipped with both vivid, highly descriptive imagery, and an incredibly nuanced attention to detail – applied distinctly to the physical features and accompanying personality of each character, accentuates each to the extent that the ordinary turns into the grotesque, twisted into the unusual while remaining just recognisable. Ultimately, Gormenghast is strange – a strange set of books with strange characters and oppressively strange weather – and that is exactly why it is such an enjoyable read. Every inch of the setting and every twitch of every character’s expression forms an important, inescapable part of the narrative, and it is all equally, uniquely strange. No detail is omitted, no stone left without consideration. Well worth a read for anyone who enjoys a little creative flair alongside detailed imagery and exceedingly memorable characters.

What did you read in December 2017? Let me know in the Comments below.

Added to TBR shelf:

  1. Singapore Saga Vol 1: Forbidden Hill (Singapore Saga #1) by John D Greenwood.

  2. The Speckled People: A Memoire of a Half-Irish Childhood by Hugo Hamilton.

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