I reread this a 2nd time as I read the e-arc for McGuire’s newest companion novel, Over the Woodward Wall, see that blog post. I loved it even more getting the extra insight into the side story of Over the Woodward Wall.
What the fork was 2019 Josh thinking (giving this 4.75 stars). This book is flawless. I think I had such high expectations going in I was overly critical, to the point that I docked it points for a non issue.
This story is so we’ll crafted and the perfect mix of sci-fi and fantasy. It’s also time travel which is the best thing ever. End of story. The one complaint I had last time was about the depth of our villains; this go around, it became very obvious to me why they are the way they are.
God I loved this book. I kinda want to read it again but I should pace myself before I overdue it. 5/5 star
First Read – October 2019
I decided to read this because Lala at the booksandlala youtube channel spoke so highly of the book. It is a scifi-fantasy story about two siblings with potentially god-like powers for nefarious purposes. I seems like everything I would love. Plus, McGuire is the author of another series I’ve wanted to read called the Wayward Children. It’s the winner of Hugo and Nebula awards.
My biggest fear her is the hype. There is something special about going into a book you think and hope you are going to like, and then you read it and do love it. Here, there is the opinion of someone I value significantly (granted with limited data). I don’t want to set my expectations too high. Still, I think this is going to be a lot of fun.
I’m almost done. I have a 1/4th left, and I hate it’s almost over. Everything about it is fantastic. I’ve actually stopped reading it to prolong the ending. I am starting my next book in hope that I will get invested in it, so when this is done, I have something else I’m also excited for and into. This story is very well told. I almost wish it was longer just because it is so fast paced. It is very long, nearly 500 pages I think, so it is hardly lacking in material.
I think the biggest flaw in this for me is the basis for the magic. It isn’t badly done. McGuire uses pseudoscience like Astrology, Homeopathy, and Alchemy as a real device by which to do this magic. It’s fiction, but I can’t help but cringe at how so many people don’t see it that way. This is the skeptic in me. It doesn’t lessen the quality of the book, nor do I think most people will be as put off by it as me.
What I have been asking myself is whether this is a favorite of the year. This story is great. It is well written. The plot is well crafted and unique. The characters are largely good characters. The big bad feels a little one dimensional, but most of our other characters are flawed yet well meaning. There is some mystery around the motivations in this book. So, we may get more background to flesh out our main villain. My favorite set of characters are of course the main characters, that is the siblings.
I really appreciate the dynamic they have and the love they share for one another. It’s an easy thing to relate to as someone with two sisters. Siblings are, for at least a part of your life, your best friend, and the bond you share outmatches and outlasts the bonds we share with others. I am really hoping for some heart wrenching moments towards the end. There have already been tough moments between the siblings, and one moment early on almost had me crying. That’s really what solidified the dynamic between the two for me.
This is a fantastic story founded in characters we are invested in. The story itself is the perfect mixture of science fiction and fantasy. My favorite types of stories are those that incorporate a bit of both but are still grounded in real everyday life. That made this story easy and fun. However, it goes deeper with how it explores the ideas of family and a sibling bond as I mentioned before.
The biggest faults I found in the story were the villains. They felt one dimensional, and they never got fleshed out. There really isn’t a more stereotypical villain then one that seeks to take over the world. What’s more the story’s conclusion (light spoilers ahead), while not exactly predictable, feels like what we would expect.
McGuire still maintains some mystery about the fate of the world. The siblings are real people, but they’re also more than that. They are something not even they understand. What might happen if they ascend to their full power may be itself dooming to the earth. If they don’t, they will just be replaced with another pawn for the main villain. Is it a lose lose or is there hope?
All in all, the story is near perfect in its telling. While the villain is a caricature, our “heroes” are real characters that we can connect to. 4.75/5 stars. I hate not giving it a full 5 stars. I can’t help but wonder if I am being overly critical because I came in hyped up. I remember Viscous was similarly hyped, but I definitely enjoyed this story more.
Canada Reads is a yearly competition where 20(ish?) Canadian authors are selected to compete as the one book all of Canada should read. Those books are narrowed down to 5 to meet the years theme: One book to bring Canada into focus. This is clearly a very vague description, but I suppose it isn’t meant to be very specific. Still, the goal is to have them defended in a public debate setting. Note: the debates have been postponed pending the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
A friend shared the announcement of this with me back in January. I had just started my YouTube channel, and I got super excited at the idea of doing a video about them! I’m a graduate student from the States living in Canada. I’ve been here for nearly four years, and I thought it would be fun to familiarize myself with more Canadian authors.
I decided to treat this like a “readathon” where my goal was to read them all in the first week of March. In the end, I think it took 8 or 9 days, but that was good enough! Above, you can watch my vlog of the experience where I discuss my thoughts as I read them as well as my overall thoughts on who I think should win. It was a fantastic experience. I loved all of these books, and I am so glad I decided to read these. Part of me worried that this type of literary competition might consist of very cerebral books that might be a bit taxing to read in one week (back to back). Overall, I don’t think they were.
I found most of these books to be very accessible and a delight to read. I’m going to provide a review of each below with some context as to how well I think they satisfy the “theme” of the year. Then I’ll do a final discussion of who I think should win at the end of the blog.
This is a story about a small town in Newfoundland (I think). It centers around a group of people who work or go to this restaurant in the town. The long and the short of it, this is a novel about toxic masculinity, gas-lighting, and other forms of mental and physical abuse. It touches on blame and mental health and the effect our actions have on those around us.
This was the hardest novel I read for this challenge. I found myself being as intrigued as I was infuriated. The writing was so weird and confusing at first. Coles uses the local dialect which is not the easiest to understand. I keep doubting that I read something the right way, and eventually I had to accept reading more causally, not fixating on every weird phrase and hope it comes together (which it did). I stopped noticing it eventually.
The structure is also weird. She essentially starts by focusing on our characters state of minds from the start. Except, she does it without any real context. We’re basically diving into a story midway, and we have to figure out what it is that’s going on. We eventually get the context. Although, it is a fascinating, if confusing, way of telling the story. Cole’s basically starts this by saying, this book is about the mental state and health of our characters. That is the most important aspect.
I really enjoyed the book. I gave it 4/5 stars, but that was a close call. It was actually the only book I considered giving less than 4 stars (spoilers for those reviews). However, I will say that it probably was the most thought provoking book because of how challenging it was.
This was a very fun read. It was a thought provoking set of science fiction novellas. The first is about a capitalist “dystopia” where the poorest pay even to use their own appliances. It was weird story that grew on me. It introduced me to Doctorow’s writing style (which is weird and I like it). The second (I think) was about a superhero (basically Superman) who basically tries to solve the problem of racism and police brutality. I thought this was a fantastic discussion of the idea of a “white savior” and the role of alleys today and in history. The third one was dark. It was a story about people who commit acts of terror against the healthcare system. This walked a fine line between critical critique of our healthcare system and encouraging acts of violence and fear to make change, which really bothered me. The last story was a dystopia about a plague of some sort. It is obviously very poignant given the news. I thought it was a great. It explored the power dynamic of that type of situation.
Overall, I gave this 4/5 stars. I really enjoyed the book, but it felt more American than it did Canadian. It seemed like a giant VOTE BERNIE SANDERS book. I don’t see that being relevant to Canadians. What’s more, even if this was for American’s, if we are looking to inspire a movement, we need a book that raise awareness and change minds. This book is great, but it is speaking to the choir. I don’t see this changing anyone’s beliefs. Does it really fit here? I think not.
Son of a Trickster is a fiction book about a young indigenous teen in an unstable home who begins to learn about his connections to his heritage. This is a fantasy contemporary book, and I loved it. Eden Robinson is herself indigenous, and I assume uses that to build the dynamic we see in the book. I thought was a good domestic story, and I was really intrigued by the mythological side as well.
Personally, I think this deserves attention. It isn’t just a fun read, it is educational. It brings attention to indigenous issues, but more importantly, it explores of one of the mythological story of the indigenous people. I don’t mean to assert this novel is a complete representation of indigenous people. However, I think it would be good for Canadians to be better familiarized with the culture of the people who were here before. One of the most fundamental traits of a culture is it’s mythologies or religions.
Overall, I think it is a great candidate and a great book. 4/4 stars.
I loved this memoir because I felt that I connected with it in a lot of ways. This is about a queer Muslim woman’s experience growing up in Pakistan before moving to Canada. This was a fantastic exploration of life as a woman in very conservative Muslim countries, but it also did a great job exploring what it must be like to be queer. I grew up in a much more privileged position than Habib. However, I too grew up queer in a very religious family. It creates feelings of doubt and confusion.
This is her story of finding peace in her religion. While I hold a much more negative view of religion, I did enjoy hearing her perspective as a queer woman trying to shape Islam to be what she needs it to be. This was also a story of acceptance, and again I found myself relating to her attempts to find acceptance from her family. Our situations are not perfectly aligned (obviously). Although, it was to the point that I was really able to connect with Habib’s story in a way that I could not for any other story. 5/5 stars
The last book is another memoir about the life of Jesse Thistle (the author). He is an indigenous Canadian who grew up in a broken home, and this story tracks his life as he tries to grow up with these struggles. It details how these have life long effects on the choices he makes and the places he ends up. This is a dark tale of drug abuse and homelessness, and I felt it was perhaps the most poignant story for that reason. Another thing that stood out to me was the presence of religion in his life. Never do we see him turn to religion, but it was the kind of redemption arc that is easy to believe happens. Although, I feel those types of stories miss out on the true struggle that the person has to go through to recover their life.
This is a full reveal of his life, and I can only imagine how taxing it must have been to reveal some of the things he discusses in this memoir. I really enjoyed it overall. My only complaint was that the writing wasn’t my taste. 4/5 stars.
Who should win?
When we think about which book all Canadians should read it becomes a very complicated question. I’ve already said that Radicalized is not focused on Canadian issues let alone told in a way that would be effective to get people in focus.
Small Game Hunting touches on a world wide issue that has only grown in recent year. That is, issues of gender, patriarchy, and rape culture. I thought it was fantastic. It was probably the most thought provoking, and it is the kind of thing that, even now, not enough people are thinking about. Sadly, I am again forced to ask the question on effectiveness. I thought this novel was difficult to read, and I am not convinced the majority of people would actually stick with it long enough to hear what it has to say. I think we need to focus on a book that every Canadian will consume (or are more likely to).
We Have Always Been Here is much more direct with its message. My issue here is a subjective one. I should be clear, I am no Canadian, merely a graduate student in Canada. What’s more, I am white cis gender male atheist. I am not one to decide which issue outweighs another. However, in my assessment, I don’t think Habib’s memoir brings attention to the area most in need. That is to say, religious and queer freedoms have made great strides.
Personally, I would narrow it down to Son of a Trickster and From the Ashes. I think Robinson’s book is a better book from a writing perspective. It also still focuses on indigenous issues as well as drug abuse (which, to be clear, I am saying is a shared theme between the books not necessarily in the entire community). It also touches on the concept of gender and sexuality in a way that From the Ashes does not. If I had to pick one Canadian to read, it would probably be Son of a Trickster. It is an immersive book that familiarizes Canadians with Indigenous mythology and some of the struggles they have to endure. It is the type of thing I feel would make great foundation for Canadians, perhaps in the classroom.
However, I have to address the fact that this year’s theme is “bring Canada into focus.” What I have done is make an assessment on what I think is most important for Canadians (again, I recognize this isn’t my place), but the theme does restrict exactly what it is they want to accomplish. While it is vague, I can’t help but gravitate to From the Ashes when I think about bringing Canadians into focus. Robinson’s work is the type of background material I think every Canadian should have about the culture that preceded theme. Still, for today’s issues, From the Ashes brings attention to poverty, homelessness, drug addiction, and more. For that reason, it seems like the clear winner.
I hate giving this book three stars because that feels so harsh, but it isn’t quite four stars either. This book was very well written, and it follows three very interesting characters. If I was going to be told, I’d rate this 3/3.5 stars, I might not have read it. Although, this is one of those rare cases where I still enjoy a book despite having other problems with it. I came into this not knowing anything. I did not realize Boy, Snow, Bird were names. I don’t know what I was expecting, but this was not it. Luckily, that is okay.
This is the story of women (Boy) who becomes a step mother (to Snow) and later has a child of her own (Bird). This is all in the synopsis, so it isn’t a spoiler. It is basically the dynamic between the three of them. Each of them are interesting on their own, and together they make an interesting family dynamic. Oyeyemi basically has the frame work of a great book here. The problem comes from the same thing that makes Oyeyemi so unique and interesting and that is her abstract approach to storytelling.
The story-line is hard to follow. The book ends with plot points that are seemingly left unaddressed. Don’t get me wrong, I apprecaite a good ambigious ending, but Oyeyemi leaves too much up to the reader. It’s as if she gives us the idea and we have to write it. With that said, I probably would enjoy rereading this because I may make connections I didn’t before. In any case, I enjoyed it well enough. 3.5/5 stars
Rating Break Down Writing Style: 9/10 Plot: 7/10 Characters: 10/10 Ending: 0/10 Engagement: 8/10 Enjoyment: 6/10 Comprehension: 5/10 Pacing: 7/10 Desire to Reread: 5/10 Special: 6/10 Final Rating: 3.385/5 Note, each rating is weighted based on personal importance.
Last year, I began to blog about the books I read. I am glad I made that decision, and I am thankful to the friend who shared their blog post of them tracking their reading because it really got me motivated to read. I am going to try and continue that this year! In addition, I am also starting my own Booktube channel, Josh’s Bookish Voyage. I am loving it! Editing was a little scary at first, but it is a process I enjoy doing. Although I still worry that I might not have the time to do all I’d like to do.
Hopefully, I can do both, but my time may end up monopolized by one sometimes. I’m already finding myself behind on my blogs (still 4 or 5 more to write, and I just finished 4!). I am loving making videos though, so it is worth it! I’ve set a limit and sort of a goal of 2 videos per week. This won’t always be feasible, but I know the more excited I get, the more likely I am to spend too much time on this. I am really excited for the channel. I want to point out, my channel name is an homage to Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. He began the series with a moving quote,
We are going to explore the cosmos in a ship of the imagination.
Each month, I’ll share my TBR for that month and review the month before it!
Ratings in 2020
If you read my 2019 stats post, you’ll know I wanted to change how I approach rating the books I read because I felt like I was too generous. My average rating was 4 or 4.5, and the fact is not every book is amazing. It is true that I enjoyed most of what I read. Nevertheless, I wanted to develop a more objective approach, so I broke it down into the factors I consider most important to me in a book.
Desire to reread
These can be expanded for fiction/nonfiction which I have slightly different expectations for:
This may seem like a very convoluted way of thinking about these, but for me, rating a book isn’t about any one aspect of it. There are books that aren’t the most enjoyable that I feel like are still a positive experience. Sure, some of these matter more. The idea is, I can appreciate certain aspects of a book, and breaking it down is a way of thinking about each one then tying it together. This is still very much a measure of what I like in a book.
I’ve weighted each characteristic based on how important it is to me (see below). That means the rating I give one trait, say enjoyment, will matter more than say the writing style. Comprehension matters because I want to leave the book feeling like I understood what I read, but sometimes, confusion doesn’t ruin the book. Now, each of these will often effect my rating of the other; if I don’t find a book engaging, I probably won’t enjoy it. However, I think there are a lot of eccentricities that go into how we judge a book such that breaking it down feels like the best approach for me.
I mentioned “special” because it gets to the core of that special feeling a book can make you feel. I can read a book that I find enjoyable, engaging, and everything else seem perfect about it, but that doesn’t mean it will necessarily be a profound book to me. I think that should matter. Another trait is my desire to reread a book. Now, together these two are only worth a quarter of a star out of five stars. However, you might see how that can just barely shift a book into lower category. On that note, I am moving away from .25 ratings and rounding to the nearest half; on Goodreads I will round up or down based on if my final number is above or below .5.
This is a breakdown of each aspect of a book that matters to me with a weight to indicate how important it is in the calculation of the final number.
Let’s be clear, Seanan McGuire is perfect in all ways; she can do no wrong. I think anything and everything I’ve said about the Wayward Children’s series (Books 1,2, and 3) pretty much apply here. Not since Harry Potter have I felt such a strong connection to a world. I said something similar about Scythe by Neal Shusterman, which will almost certainly be in my top books of the year (I should do that for 2019…). However, McGuire’s Wayward Children series is something different. It connects to me and my my fantastical imagination in a way that Scythe just can’t. That is why I will forever love this series and lament the day we have to see it end.
Seanan McGuire continues the series by taking us on yet another fantastical tell of longing to belong. In this tale, we follow a young girl who travels to a goblin market where fair trade is everything. There, she befriends a young girl. What follows is her attempt to learn the rules of the road. All the while, it seems there is a tug-a-war between the goblin market and earth. This is a story about fairness, and when we think about that, we have to think about what traveling does to our family. Children are young and impressionable; we don’t know what we want. When faced with the facts of reality we come to realize sometimes life isn’t fair. Sometimes life means making hard choices that don’t end well either way.
I am now one away from being caught up with this series. Book five has only just come out, and I will probably read it in March (February is black history month; spoilers for February TBR post). Once I do that, I’ll probably start the series over again. Ever since I started reading one of these a month, the highlight of my month has always the Wayward Children series. I want to be forever lost in this world. Except, I don’t really, because as great as it sounds, it is still so full of sad endings. Nevertheless, I read this, and I feel like I am a part of the story. I write about what these characters do, and my instinct is to talk as if I was a part of the journey with “we”, “us”, and “our.” I realized that and was amazed that I was talking as if this was my story too. That speaks to how engaging these stories are. I feel like I am a part of this story; every action they make is my own.
Do I need to say it? I highly recommend this book and series. 4.5/5 stars
Rating Break Down Writing Style: 10/10 Plot: 8/10 Characters: 9/10 Ending: 9/10 Engagement: 9/10 Enjoyment: 10/10 Comprehension: 10/10 Pacing: 8/10 Desire to Reread: 10/10 Special: 7/10 Final Rating: 4.65/5 Note, each rating is weighted based on personal importance.
It’s 2020! That’s a new year and a new decade. This is the decade I really hope to hone in on my passion of reading, but that is only possible because I’ve had such a fantastic year in reading. I read 80 books this year. To put that in context, I’ve read ~250 books my entire life (save my very young reads, e.g. Magic Tree House). I was a decent reader in my teens, and I’ve always tried to keep that up every year with 10-15 books a year.
Fast forward to this year when I went from struggling to get fifteen, to an uptick in reading in July and even more in September when I came across Booktube for the first time. Booktube has proven to be a both an inspiration and a guide. It has pushed me to try new books, but it has also given me new challenges to spice up how I read. Most of them were audiobooks (see below), and it was because of Books and Lala that I decided to try listening to a book at double speed, revolutionizing my reading.
What’s more, I’ve read several physical books (maybe a tenth the number of audiobooks), and I haven’t read a physical book in years. The result is me reading one third of my total life time of books in a single year. I am so excited moving forward, and I hope you join me in discussing the different reading stats.
Stats are key to setting goals. I don’t just want to read more; I want a wider range of diversity and viewpoints to better myself for the better. There are a lot of stats, so I am going to create a Table of Contents so you can jump ahead if you prefer.
I saw a friend of mine share a post of all the books he read in 2018. He did it to encourage himself to read more, and I thought it was a great idea! I’ve decided to do it now. Of course, all of my casual reading will be via audiobooks. I’m sure there are some of you who may not consider that actually reading. I really don’t care. I’ll save the reading for my research.
I will try to post monthly updates. Below these, I will post ongoing reviews and commentary about the books I am reading, but I won’t post these until I finish the book. You can see the complete list below. I’ve got a couple large short story collections I am in the process of reading, but you can find those ongoing reviews on their own posts. These are books I am not reading consistently. Some of them I am reading but holding off posting until I make it through more stories.
Click on the month in question to see the update at the start of that month including the TBR (may not be there for the first part of the year). You can jump to the January 2020 update and TBR here.
I finished 80 books this year. I started the year with an ambitious goal of 15 books this year, but I lost interest in March as I begun to read something I wasn’t loving. I also had a period of short stories/essays that I read without completing the entire collections. Fast forward to July, and I found myself reading so much more. It was September when I came across Booktube for the first time, and that changed everything. Once I saw I had read nearly 10 books both in August and September, I began to think I could read a lot more than I thought. It really was all about the routine. I stopped listening to as many podcasts and watching as many TV shows. By October, I started experimenting with 1.8 to 2.0 times speed. Naturally, that begets twice the reading. This year, shows a clear growth for the better, and it makes me so excited for next year.
This is interesting. My average count was in the mid 300s. I always thought I read a lot of long books, but clearly it is more balanced. I actually read a lot more novellas this year than I normally do (by %). I had been concerned about counting them towards my books read list, but my average length shows that it’s evened out by the longer books I read.
This is a disappointing stat. My average rating was, I think, 4 stars, and that seems a little too generous. I think I am giving too many 4+ stars. I heard one person say 4 stars are good books, but 5 stars really should be absolute favorites, books you want to reread. I think that is a good standard. I intent to be more harsh in my ratings moving forward. The struggle is, if it is less than 3 stars, why finish it. Perhaps, my 2 star should be more “fine” categorically than “actively dislike.”
Types of Books (Genre, Audience, etc.)
Clearly, I have a bias for Horror, Scifi, and Fantasy. In fact, many of the scifi and fantasy overlap. I started reading more contemporary, mystery and historical fiction largely at the behest of Booktube. I think historical is the most difficult to read because there are a lot of that I am particular about. I love family drama, but I don’t like war or the Victorian. That said, I’ve made a point to vary my reading. I have my TBR shelf split by genre, and I make myself pick at least one book from each genre before I double up on another.
I find it very important to keep my reading varied to keep me interested. Some people might think this is me reading things I don’t want to read, but that isn’t the case. I am excited about everything on my shelf. Granted, there are those that I consider more experimental than others, but I still want to read them. This is to keep me from pushing through my most excited stack and lose stem when or if I got stuck on a bunch of duds. I want to make sure I always have a very highly anticipated book ahead of me.
I don’t read a lot of YA, but I am experimenting more with it. It it still hit and miss, but I think there is YA out there for me. I have definitely found some I love. I intent to experiment more this next year in hopes of finding more.
I started reading more graphic novels (comics) this year, and I hope to read more this next year. I’m not sure what more to do with this. I would like to read more anthologies. I actually read my first one this year with Ellen Datlow. Overall, I’d like this to be more varied just so I can get a better variety of experiences.
Books by Gender
It was 2015 when I realized I had a bias for men authors (85%), and that became the year of the women. In the sense that I chose to read only women. Since then, I have tried to increase that number. Part of it is my obsession with Stephen King and King rereads. My new favorites of the year would be Mary Robinette Kowal, A.S. King, Seanan McGuire, and Tananarive Due. Among men, my new favorites would be Stephen Graham Jones and maybe Jeff Vandermeer. My old favorites would of course be Octavia Butler, Stephen King, and Maya Angelou.
Books by Race
I read a lot of amazing fiction by POC. I clearly have room for improvement, and that is a goal of mine this next year. However, there are a lot of writers worth mentioning. Stephen Graham Jones writes amazing horror and is a native american author. Maya Angelou and Octavia Butler still stand out as favorites, but Tananarive Due was a new find of mine. She writes fantastic horror, and I look forward to reading more by her. Shobha Rao is an Indian aurthor who wrote one of my top ten books of the year. The last person who really stood out to me (that I can recall at the moment) is Celeste Ng who writes the best domestic dramas. I cannot wait to read more of her books; I’ll probably reread her existing ones.
I want to be clear, I don’t mention this authors because they are people of color. I mention them because they are some of the best authors I read last year. I just think its beneficial to make note of those books that are also by authors of color because I am aware of my bias and the bias of others to read what we know. This is a way of drawing attention to books that are just as worthy of your time that may not get the attention it deserves. And, if your like me, maybe you’re looking specifically authors of colors at times to make sure you are reading a more varied list of books.
Book Purchases (Owned vs Bought)
This was a bad year for book buying. I spent more money than I have. I found BookOutlet and BookTube. Now, this is not the complete list of books I bought. These are books I read. I have created a strict monthly book budget, and I am at the point where I should be able to read only books I own (or get from NetGalley). It is a good discipline to have. I hope to spend less money on Amazon this year, but when I do, it is for newer books which makes sense why I gravitated toward reading those if I have them. Thrift books is a site in the states that offers super cheap used books. Usually, I read then buy those, but since I am reading books I own, that won’t happen as much (hopefully).
DNF (Did not finish) Books
I did not DNF a lot of books this year. I quit To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis not because I hated it but because I was in a slump. Still, I find myself finishing most books I start. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so strict with myself. Alas, it is what it is, but maybe I can be more liberal with my DNFs. I just hate not meeting a goal. I also hate not finishing books I already own physically. The only other book I didn’t finish was Essay’s by Christopher Hitchens. I really tried (twice. I read the essay’s that interested me, but too many of them were esoteric and a waste of my time. I decided to give up on it, and still keep it on my shelf.
Another book I technically didn’t finish was The Time Travelers Almanac. I’ve been reviewing it as I go along, but I haven’t finished it. I am going to. I think I’ve set too strict with how I’m trying to review it, but I’m not rushing through it.
I first heard about this book on Ariel Bissett’s Youtube channel. It sounded like an obscure book but one right up my alley. It is about a coffee shop where you can travel anywhere in time, but you have to be back before the coffee gets cold. This is the only book I intend to read physically (versus over audio). It is yet another time travel story. That makes 4 books with time-travel related premises. Needless to say, I am psyched for this one; I love me some time travel.
A Very Merry Readathon has not gone as well as I hoped. I think I started this before it ended, but I definitely didn’t finish it. I am working on it though!
This book took me longer than I wanted to finish. I big part of that was simply time management related. However, the book has been a bit of a let down. I did enjoy it. The book was warmhearted, and at times it even got to me on an emotional level. That is usually a very important thing I want from books. Sadly, that wasn’t enough to save this book for me.
I didn’t care for the writing. It may be because it was translated. That said, I found out it was adapted from a play, so maybe the structure and writing problems are that it just wasn’t developed to be a novel. The problem continues with the situations which go from being problematic to staged. That is to say, the situations don’t feel natural. Some of the character motivations were questionable. Again, this may be cultural.
Lastly, I read a lot of time travel stories. The time travel mechanic here was convoluted, convenient and inconsistent. You can’t change the past, but really they mean, you can’t change your memory of the past. First off, going changes things, even if it isn’t to the extent the author wants to pretend is somehow significant. Secondly, the author conveniently has a well known magic shop that is simultaneously mostly ignored because “it’s hard” to actually time travel. The whole concept is so contrived. His rules are often broken or the rules we think exist become conveniently twisted such that he obeys the word of the rule, if not the spirit. That isn’t a twist, its just lazy writing in my opinion.
Clearly, I have a lot of complaints. I love time travel for a reason, so I know what I like. That said, it was still enjoyable and emotional. That’s why I wouldn’t say I dislike the book. 3.5/5 stars.
I enjoy Greek Mythology. My love for it probably started with God of War on Playstation back in high school (middle school?) and then continued during high school literature as we explored Greek mythology more closely. That continued as I fell in love with Piers Anthony’s Incarnations of Immortality series, then with Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.
Still, I wouldn’t say Greek mythology composes a big part of what I read, but lately I have found myself getting back into it. I read Circe by Madeline Miller then A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes both of which have inspired me to continue with Greek myths. That is the main reason I chose to read The Silence of the Girls which is the story of a minor character, Briseis, from the Trojan War who gets taken by Achilles.
This review is coming a week or more after I finished the book because it has been a busy holiday, so forgive me if my review is slightly abridged due to limited memory.
I really enjoyed this book. It follows the life of Briseis who becomes the slave of Achilles and Agamemnon for brief time. All of these characters where in Haynes’s A Thousand Ships that I recently read, and I thought the two stories complimented each other well. Like a Thousand Ships, this is the story of the women who get trafficked in the course of war.
I found Barker’s writing and story easy to read and enjoy. I thought it did a good job adding a new side of the story with a new perspective of this classic myth. In that sense, it is a supremely effective novel. My biggest issue comes with the focus, which is less the women than Achilles himself. In fact, about half way in we begin to get chapters in the perspective of Achilles himself. One might perceive this as me being mad at the book for just not being exactly what I though it would be, and maybe that is true. However, it seemed to be this story was sold as a story of Briseis not Achilles. Instead, it was Achilles story through Briseis.
That type of approach does give us a new perspective into Achilles relationship with Briseis that seems like it might help us better appreciate Briseis’s struggle, but all we really got from his perspective was that Briseis was rarely more than a symbol of how he is not respected enough. I just wish Barker could conveyed that without focusing so much on Achilles.
Overall, I still thoroughly enjoyed this book, and my take away is just to know what to expect going in. 4/5 stars
I don’t remember when I came across this book. It might have been when I was looking at books about books (i.e. reading Diane Setterfield books). I came across this book about this boy who gets lost or taken into these stories he is reading. Honestly, I know very little about this, and that is okay. I only want to know enough to get me excited which I am!
I started this in a bit of a slump. This is the 5th book I’ve finished for A Very Merry Readathon, but I have DNFed (at least temporarily) one book that I was really looking forward to because it wasn’t working for me. I feared the stress of this busy week was preventing me from getting into whatever I was trying to read. Luckily, that did not prove true for The Book of Lost Things. I quickly found myself lost in the story of a young boy who suffers the lost of his mother and then has to cope with his father remarrying. He’s greatest solace is in reading. So much so, that he hears them talking to him from time to time. This ultimately leads him on quite the adventure where he has to ask himself what kind of person he wants to be.
This is a beautiful and heartwarming story. Is there anything more charming than reading about a character telling us how great reading is? I don’t see how the average reader wouldn’t get hooked on that alone. Added onto that is a unique take on a classic story. The family dynamics helps us connect with our main character, but it also works as a grounding by which he can come to appreciate how to better value the family he has.
I liked the fantastical characters as well. We have our mysterious big bad among other one-dimensional bad guys, but there are also those that we dive more deeply into. We get to see what made them this way. At times, we may even empathize with people who have done pretty bad things. Multidimensional characters are important to me when I’m reading a story. There are characters who are more basic, but the author does a good job balancing the right amount of real characters to the more simple ones that are a common trait in a fantasy story such as this.
Overall, this is a pretty great story. I enjoyed it. I recommend it. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t consider it an all time favorite. 4/5 stars
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, with the kids jingle belling and everyone telling you: be of good cheer! What a terrible way to start this blog, but I can’t help myself. It’s the holidays again! On that note, I have decided to participate in the Very Marry Readathon. This is a very loosely Christmas themed readathon with a series of 5 challenges to meet. It is happening December 15-21 which is okay timing; it isn’t too early and I suppose not during Xmas is good too.
I don’t think the challenges are very difficult. In fact, I am a little disappointed at how easy they are and that there are only five of them. Because of that, I’ve decided to try and complete multiple books for each challenge. I am going to start by listing the challenges, and before I discuss the books I will read for that challenge, I am going to give a list of what I intend to read. Most of these books meet multiple prompts, so it will probably be easiest to discuss that way.
Read a book set during the holidays.
Read a book with a Christmas/holiday color on the cover.
Read a book with S-N-O-W in the title (or the authors name).
Read a book by the fire.
Read a book just because you want to!
Mr. Dickens and His Carol 271 pages, 4.21 hrs
A Christmas Carol 238 pages, 1.5 hrs
The Afterlife of Holly Chase 400 pages, 5.27 hrs
The Book of Lost Things 339 pages 5.79 hrs
Watership Down 478 pages, 9.21 hrs
The Silence of the Girls, by Pat Barker 336 page, 5.66 hrs
Woman on the Edge of Time (Maybe) 417 pages, 7.9 hrs
Before the Coffee Gets Cold 208 pages, 10.5 hrs
Total Reading Goals: ~50 hours and 30 minutes, 2687 pages
These times are adjusted for 1.9x reading speeds (except for #8 which I intend to read physically and approximate by page count and my reading speed).
1. Read a book set during the holidays.
This is the prompt that really makes it Christmas themed. I am very excited to be reading the Afterlife of Holly Chase. The only reason I haven’t read it sooner was because I knew I wanted to read it in December. A Christmas Carol is my favorite Christmas story; I love it! The Afterlife of Holly Chase is a take on that story following a woman who never followed the advice of her three ghosts. I don’t know if it is going to be a very good book, but I feel pretty confident I’ll enjoy it, at least in part, for its concept. In the same train of thought, I am reading Mr. Dickens and His Carol which is the story of how Dickens came to write A Christmas Carol (fictionalized). I am also going to reread A Christmas Carol again. I recently found the Classics Illustrated hardback edition, and I’d love to listen while I read through it.
2. Read a book with a Christmas/holiday color on the cover.
This is, I think, too easy. They consider this red, gold, white, green. Honestly, if I was making this a rule, I’d make it so red and green both had to be on the cover, but it isn’t. In any case, I have several books that easily meet this criteria (of red, gold, etc.). The Book of Lost Things is red and white. This is a book I was planning on reading this month anyway! The Afterlife of Holly Chase is red and maybe gold, and A Christmas Carol also apply’s here. Pretty much all the Christmas Carol related books work here, including Mr. Dickens and His Carol. If I have time, I will also read Woman on the Edge of Time which also gold and red.
3. Read a book with S-N-O-W in the title.
This means I can read any book that has the letters needed to spell SNOW in the title, and it also includes author names. I thought this was an easy one, but I am realizing now it is actually harder than I realized. I am going to read Watership Down which is another book I wanted to read this month anyways. This is a classic, and I’ve just heard such great things. I had another book I wanted to read here but decided to replace it with other books of interest. I’ve already mentioned Woman on the Edge of Time. I got excited for it initially because I thought it had S-N-O-W. Sadly, it is missing the S.
4. Read a book by the fire.
Because I am going to be listening to audiobooks for almost all of the others, I am going to make this read a physical book by the fire (virtual or otherwise). I am going to read Before the Coffee Gets Cold (because it doesn’t have an audiobook, at least where I can get it). This copy is actually in the States with my mom (I live in Ontario Canada), and I won’t have it until the last 2 or 3 days of the readathon. It’ll be a fun added challenge to do it over two or three days (as opposed to pacing myself and reading throughout the week).
5. Read a book just because you want to!
Most of these meet this category as it is. Although, I am going go further and to aim to read The Silence of the Girls. I really wanted to read more books, but I just don’t have the time. Then the Silence of the Girls comes fresh off of A Thousand Ships which inspires me to read more Greek mythology retellings. In fact, it follows another female character featured in A Thousand Ships (i.e. the Trojan War). Woman on the Edge of Time and A Christmas Carol are two more books I am reading just because I want to.
I’ve created a TBR of 8 books (with a few more in mind if I have time), but several of them are short. I actually cut out two books because I knew I wouldn’t have the time. It isn’t the end of the world if I don’t finish my TBR, but it still is stressful which is why I trimmed it down. I haven’t decided on a fixed schedule. Although, I definitely want to start with the Christmasy books (Holly Chase, Mr. Dickens, and Christmas Carol).
Unfortunately, this wasn’t a great week for reading. Well, it wasn’t bad. I finished all but two of my books, which is still 5 novels. I don’t know if they all satisfied the challenges. I don’t think I ever read by firelight. Maybe I listened to an audiobook with a candle in the background. That is okay though. I finished several books, and I am still finishing Before the Coffee Gets Cold. However, I dnfed Watership Down. I just wasn’t getting into it. I do think that was almost entirely situational, so I still completely intend to return it. I just decided it wasn’t the right time. It was a highly anticipated read, so the fact that I wasn’t connecting made me want to stop and reread it without the rush.
I left this feeling disappointed, but this is my fourth month doing a readathon. I knew I would probably push myself too hard eventually. That is okay! I still read a good bit of books. I just really underestimated how time consuming the holiday season would be from traveling, to visiting with family, to end of semester grading and work.
I don’t know when I first read A Christmas Carol. I think it probably in (or after 2009) because I remember Jim Carrey’s take on Scrooge in Robert Zemeckis’ animated A Christmas Carol. I read it, and I know I’ve tried to reread it these last view years. Reread so is to say, relisten to it. There are so many amazing versions.
That was just as amazing it always is. I chose to read the Frank Muller narrated version which was magical. I tried to read along with the illustrated edition shown above in my instagram post, but unfortunately that edition is abridged/modified. I decided to give it away as I continue my quest to find the perfect edition of a Christmas Carol (or until I read the other books in the compilations I own).
I want to think about what it is that makes a Christmas Carol so effective. I’ll start with Dickens writing. I don’t usually care for Victorian dialect, but I find it adds an ere of magic to the story. What’s more, Dickens writes in a type of prose that is itself magical. The descriptions convey every drop of emotion we are meant to feel in each moment. That is magnified by the amazing Frank Muller. I have never read any other Dickens stories because they are huge and intimidating, but I was always afraid they would be dull. After reading the Goldfinch, I do have a desire to explore more of Dicken’s writings.
Dickens writes for the lower class. He brings light to the horrible conditions that they are forced to live under. That is ever present in this story as well. In fact, I think a key trait of this work is its ability to make it about the plight of the lower class while revolving around a wealthy white man. That brings me to my second point on why it is such a great novel.
Dickens story is about empathy and charity. Scrooges problem is his selfishness and his own desire for personal gain. The point Dickens tries to convey is that Christmas is, above all else, about sharing and caring (forgive the poor choice of words). As an atheist, naturalist, agnostic, externalist, etc. I have to decide what the purpose of my life is. Of course, I have my drives and my desires. What I try to be cognizant of is that my happiness is irrevocably linked to the well being of others. I care for myself, my family, and my friends. I also care for my country and my world. I care for life itself. This is because all of these things are extensions of myself. My life is finite, but I (we) are a part of a greater system that we can help flourish to ensure we do live on, at least in part.
Forgive the soapbox, but it is worth thinking about. The core flaw with the Afterlife of Holly Chase is its missing of the point. There is an obsession of saving souls with minimal focus on actually becoming a better person. That requires a fundamental rethinking of how you see the world. The story of Holly Chase constricts it down to being nice to a hot guy you want to hook up with. Sure, it has some of things A Christmas Carol has. We have magic, ghosts, time travel (more or less); these are all my favorite things in books. Nevertheless, it wasn’t enough to give it the same heart as we see here in A Christmas Carol. That is why A Christmas Carol is a favorite. 5/5 stars.