My fiction reading has slowed down over the past few weeks, but I’ve read a few fantastic books over the past few months – some fiction, some non-fiction. Although many of them deserve full reviews or discussions, I also like giving people recommendations. In fact, book recommendations should be a super-power. I’ve also been trying out a trial of Kindle Unlimited but don’t think I’ll carry on with it – it doesn’t include many authors I enjoy or authors I haven’t yet read but are on my to-be-read list. I’d also rather ‘own’ the books I read or use an actual physical library. My to-be-read list runs to the hundreds, and I’m constantly adding to it.
(From Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel)
This is an excellent book, sort of a steampunk-magic-spy thriller mash up. It also features agents of a mysterious, ancient library, dragons, and elves. What’s not to love? I loved the library and books aspect, and Irene is an excellent heroine, not at all reliant on anyone else to ‘save’ her unless she is actually in terribly dire straits. She also has a real love of books, which is compelling for any reader. The world building is great.
The Humans is a strange Sci-Fi literary novel, about a professor who solves an unsolvable mathematical equation. He is immediately killed and possessed by an alien sent to earth to kill all those who know about the solving of this equation – simply because it is too advanced for humans to handle at this stage of their development (or ever, who knows). The alien inhabits the professor’s life and causes all kind of havoc, yet also learns a great deal about humans, and is actually a better person in many ways than the professor was. This is an unexpectedly beautiful, affecting novel, about life, the universe, human nature, depression, and love.
This is one of the standouts of the year so far for me. I randomly picked it up in a Waterstones in January, when I also bought The Mime Order (the sequel to The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon). I read it in March, when the only other novel I could manage was The Goldfinch, and this novel went some way towards pulling me out of depression, reminding me of what fiction is meant to be. It’s a post-apocalyptic novel about a travelling Shakespeare dramatic society, who travel across America with just a few wagons. It is also about hope, community, and the power of story.
The Madman’s Daughter is a YA novel based on The Island of Dr Moreau, whilst its sequel, Her Dark Curiosity, is based on The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Both of these books are excellent, although I would say that The Madman’s Daughter is the better of the two. I’m looking forward to reading the third book, A Cold Legacy, which is the final book in the trilogy (based on Frankenstein, which is also a must-read). Megan Shepherd has done something amazing here.
Reasons to Stay Alive is Matt Haig’s essential, thought provoking and important book about depression and anxiety. It helped me, when I was struggling with grief and depression earlier this year, and it articulates so much about depression and anxiety that people might find impossible to explain. Everyone’s experience with depression and anxiety is different, but this book buries down deep and mines the depths, and shows how important it is to write about these conditions. The language is beautiful, and so often I found myself taking note of passages that resonated with me.
This is a bit of strange book, one that Dan (the husband) bought for me on a whim last year. It’s about a woman who is grieving the death of her mother, and some friends give her a duckling to look after. What follows is their strange, symbiotic relationship, which often veers towards the surreal, as the duck takes over her life and affects her relationship with her family, friends and husband. It is also a comforting and emotionally wrenching novel all at once. Sometimes I found it hard to read, but also simply loved it.
This is the sequel to The Bone Season (which I read last year) – I’d been waiting patiently for it. It was definitely worth the wait, and is hard to describe in just a few words, so here is a description that I pulled off Goodreads (for The Bone Season): ‘The year is 2059. Nineteen-year-old Paige Mahoney is working in the criminal underworld of Scion London, based at Seven Dials, employed by a man named Jaxon Hall. Her job: to scout for information by breaking into people’s minds. For Paige is a dreamwalker, a clairvoyant and, in the world of Scion, she commits treason simply by breathing.’
I’ve been a fan of Gail Carriger for a while – I love her Parasol Protectorate series, which sadly came to an end with Timeless, the fifth book. So I was excited to discover that she’d written a new series of books in the same universe, with the daughter of the main character in the Parasol Protectorate. This is another steampunk-paranormal type novel, but this is definitely the kind of hilarious, fun read that Gail Carriger is known for. I love a good steampunk novel, and this is a fantastic lead-on from the last series of books.
I mentioned this in one of my latest blogs posts. I’ve had this book for a while and decided to re-read it as I hadn’t finished it last time. It’s an important book if you want to know more about how to build a world, write fantastic characters, and want to avoid tropes when writing paranormal novels. It covers everything from supernatural objects to dialogue. I found this especially important for world-building and the idea of ‘limits’ for the supernatural.
This is the third book in Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle YA series. Again, difficult to describe, but absolutely beautiful, dreamlike writing (Amazon description of The Raven Boys): ‘Blue has spent the majority of her sixteen years being told that if she kisses her true love, he will die. When Blue meets Gansey’s spirit on the corpse road she knows there is only one reason why – either he is her true love or she has killed him. Determined to find out the truth, Blue becomes involved with the Raven Boys, four boys from the local private school (lead by Gansey) who are on a quest to discover Glendower – a lost ancient Welsh King who is buried somewhere along the Virginia ley line.’
In Blue Lily, Lily Blue, the series hits its stride, and people discover what they are capable of. I love this series because I am both in awe of Maggie Stiefvater’s writing and because I love the characters – prickly, volatile Ronan Lynch, dreamlike yet driven Gansey, resentful but maturing Adam Parrish, and of course the inimitable Blue, who is thrust into the world of the Raven Boys but is anything but a walkover. The author makes us care about every one of these characters.
(From Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig)
I’m currently reading:
The Hourglass Factory by Lucy Ribchester.
Lips Touch by Laini Taylor (who wrote Daughter of Smoke and Bone, a must read).
The Mermaid’s Sister by Carrie Ann Noble.
Ismael and His Sisters by Louise Stern.
Plus a number of non-fiction ongoing reads, like Breverton’s Phantasmagoria (full of weird, odd and downright creepy descriptions of people, creatures and myths – which is helping as research for the novel), Time Warped by Claudia Hammond, and How to Write Dazzling Dialogue by James Scott Bell. My non-fiction reads are often not finished for months because I’m constantly hopping from one to another, in search of ideas and interesting things!
‘Orla wasn’t wrong, of course. But what she didn’t realize about Blue and her boys was that they were all in love with one another. She was no less obsessed with them than they were with her, or one another, analyzing every conversation and gesture, drawing out every joke into a longer and longer running gag, spending each moment either with one another or thinking about when next they would be with one another. Blue was perfectly aware that it was possible to have a friendship that wasn’t all-encompassing, that wasn’t blinding, deafening, maddening, quickening. It was just that now that she’d had this kind, she didn’t want the other.’ – Maggie Stiefvater, Blue Lily, Lily Blue.