Ahoy there, readers and spies. I’ve got a list for you, today, instead of a proper review. It was a busy month. I moved into a new apartment, agonized over which books to bring to said apartment, and spent half the month without much internet access. Maybe it was the stress of relocating that had me reading up a storm. More likely, it was the lack of Tumblr and Facebook to distract me over breakfast.
Anyway, over at my blog I entertained the notion of listing what I read in September, only to find that this would be a more daunting task than I expected. I read a lot of books last month! Some of them I’ve already reviewed here, but I’m afraid others might get lost in the shuffle. So here’s a (fairly) complete run-down on what I read, what I started, and what I hope to finish soon. Thoughts? Suggestions? Do you think I should maybe get outside more often? Possibly. Though I did read some of these out under the first changing leaves.
What I Read In September:
A stunning, complex, magical, and heartbreaking re-telling of The Wild Swans fairytale. Daughter Of The Forest is set in 9th century Ireland, and is the first book in Marillier’s Sevenwaters series. I thought it was a wonderful story with great historical detail and lovely descriptions. It also wrenched my heart into a hundred brittle pieces. In a good way, I promise. You can read my full review of the book here.
A lively Middle Grade novel from the author of Rooftoppers, starring a brave and wild heroine who is forced to leave her home in Zimbabwe for a stuffy English boarding school. Rundell’s writing was still magical, though I still like Rooftoppers better. You can read my review here.
I had no idea what to expect with this one, which is a good thing, because Girl Defective rather defies expectations and generalizations. Set in a wacky Australian record store, this was a YA novel that I think a lot of adults would enjoy, too. I got really into the character development and the general vibe of Howell’s writing, even though the plot was hard to pin down exactly. I’ll just say there’s a reason it’s not quite called Girl Detective. Highly recommended to fans of good realistic coming-of-age stories. Also recommended to the sort of people who hang out at record stores and bewail the death of vinyl. I reviewed this one, too.
This one was hard to review. (But I tried my best.) I had a fabulous time reading about Abigail and Jackaby’s adventures as investigators of supernatural murders in 19th century New England. Jackaby satisfied my desires for both banshees and witty banter. At the same time, the characterization and plot occasionally veered too closely towards obviously well-known literature and/or pop culture. Still recommended for anyone who likes their mysteries to be macabre, takes their suspects otherworldly, and prefers detectives who are more than a little zany.
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
This collection of Roxane Gay’s essays, musings, and rants is pretty much everything I love about this fascinating modern age of information. I waste a lot of time reading literary reviews and criticism of under-representation on various internet wormholes. It’s how I learn what’s going on, and the hours of scrolling scrolling scrolling through Tumblr have made me much more aware of how my own privilege and environment have made me predisposed to selfishness. It’s how I remember to try and look past myself and recognize what’s troubling people I might never meet in real life. But that method involves a lot of scrolling past cyclical arguments and senseless trolling. So glory be to the publishing powers on high that Roxane Gay has compiled a whole book full of her interesting, moving, important, and often hilarious thoughts. She is everything I like best about the bloggy-type world. Bad Feminist is super easy reading because her style is so convivial, but it actually contains a whole battalion of hard truths ready to rain down wake-up calls on the casual page turner. Nothing terribly new for Twitter-ers or Tumblr-scrollers, but an enjoyable book which should be thrown at any head which appears to be buried in the sand.
Keep The Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell
George Orwell’s strange novel was my “classic”-ish book for the month. I appreciated Keep The Aspidistra Flying more than I would say that I enjoyed it. The protagonist was frustrating and the setting was bleak. But Orwell is very talented at relaying a character’s thought process without suggesting that we should agree with the hapless fellow. I couldn’t hide my smile when Gordon griped inwardly about the more difficult patrons at the bookshop where he works. This was a sharp look at class and ambition in 1930s England. While the characters’ philosophies put my teeth on edge more than once, I found it to be a smart, wry, and insightful novel. If I see an aspidistra anytime soon, I’ll probably either laugh to myself or try to throw the plant out a window. I needed to eat a lot of dessert while I read this one, so my embellished thoughts on Keep The Aspidistra Flying can be found in this blog post, which is also a recipe for baked apples with custard.
Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater (#3 in The Raven Cycle)
I read the ARC of this the very same day I found it on the shelf at my store. All other reading projects were put the hell on hold. I’m not going to post my review of Blue Lily, Lily Blue until the book is released, but I can assure all followers of Blue Sargent and the Aglionby Boys that this third installment is a fine addition to The Raven Cycle. I so very rarely keep up with a series anymore, not because I lose interest in extended story lines but simply because I don’t have the time when so many books for work or review demand my attention. Maggie Stiefvater’s series is a big fat exception to that rule. The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves brought our magnificent ensemble cast closer to finding the sleeping legendary Welsh king Glendower, with many a heart-wrenching twist and agonizing turn along the way. Get ready for even more complications, my friends. Prepare to tear at your hear and gnash your teeth in distress. This volume might be the weakest of the three, when I consider it seriously, but the character development continues to be unparalleled even as the complicated plot gets a little muddled. Oh, and the witticisms. The banter. The references to myths and legend and proper tea brewing techniques! Check back for my full review nearer to the book’s release on October 21st.
100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith
I had trouble reviewing this book, too. (You can witness my attempts here.) Nominated for the National Book Award for Young Readers, 100 Sideways Miles is most likely a humorously self-conscious work of realistic YA literature, but it could also be a perplexing story about fate and possible aliens. No matter what, Andrew Smith has written some passages of freakin’ excellent dialogue between his teenaged characters. The use of symbolism and wacky facts about the earth’s velocity were nearly as memorable as the central friendship, too.
A Book Of Scottish Verse selected by R. L. Mackie
I re-read about 3/4 of the poems in this little old book the night before results came in about the Referendum for Scottish Independence. I bought the collection when I visited Scotland in the spring, and found it very comforting this month when I was afraid that my chest would explode from all the conflicting emotions. My poor roommate had to hear to me declaiming William Dunbar’s 15th century verse in early-modern Scots, but she was very patient because I was in distress. I may or may not have forced her to listen to James Hogg’s “Bonnie Kilmenie gaed up the glen” in its entirety, too. 55% of me – a slim majority – is happy that Scotland is staying within the Union for now, but reading these poems again was a great reminder that my favorite country in all the world needs more freedom and respect than it currently receives. The more romantic, poetic, dramatic 45% of me is heartbroken.
Dark Spell by Gill Abruthnott
I wanted to read some of the books which have been nominated for the Scottish Children’s Book Award, and a history-infused contemporary fantasy set amongst witches in St Andrews seemed like the right place to start! I thought the writing and plot were only slightly above average in Dark Spell, but the lovingly-described setting was like a powerful healing potion for my constant homesickness. My full review of this book is here.
Poisoned Apples: Poems For You, My Pretty by Christine Heppermann
This was a collection of much more modern poetry than the late-Medieval stuff I was weeping over earlier in the month. Heppermann bends fairy-tale expectations and society’s demands into thorny new images and broken reflections. She writes about wicked queens and desperate girls in castles and high school bathrooms and all the fraught places in between. Some of these poems deal very closely with issues like eating disorders and self harm, and while it’s all handled very artfully I did feel my innards twisting up a little at some of the anorexia images. I’d rather spend my time thinking about fairy tales instead of remembering my old nemesis the eating disorder, but it took a little while for me to shake off the paralyzing mental dust that settled after a few of Heppermann’s poems. I really recommend this collection to teenaged girls who need a charm for strength or sincerity in the shape of frank and powerful verses, but read with caution if you’ve struggled with difficult issues that aren’t quite banished for good!
Sunshine by Robin McKinley
This book has been thrown at me so many times by my room-mate. Now that we live under the same roof, have one meager between our bedrooms, and share all those glorious bookcases, it was high time I relented. Sunshine is a smart urban fantasy with vampires and cinnamon rolls. The future is weird. The vampires are scary. The bakery is wonderful. McKinley’s writing was almost always incredibly strong, though I think this book could have been about 100 pages shorter and held my attention a little better. I’m going to try to write a more in-depth review within the next week, as I only finished reading Sunshine two days ago and need to dwell on it a little more. It stands out amongst a tired genre, that’s for sure, even though it was written several years ago. Did you know that it was possible to get bent out of shape about baked goods, even while blood’s a-splatterin’ and curses are flying fast? It’s possible and it’s fun.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
The final book I read this month! And what a way to end September. Station Eleven deserves more thought than I’ve given it so far, and I don’t want to go into too much detail since lots of people I know are interested in reading it. A Shakespeare company and Symphony travels around North America, performing to settlements twenty years after a terrible pandemic destroys life as we know it. The non-linear narrative draws us into several different characters’ lives pre- and post- collapse. Art, fame, immortality, and the nostalgia for a past which can never be regained are torn apart and put back together as characters alter others’ lives in big or little ways. The beginning and end of Station Eleven kept my attention better than the middle bit, which focused on the End Of The World stuff too closely while still straining my willingness to suspend disbelief. But the idea of a Shakespeare company wandering the wreckage is really good. I hope that Station Eleven gets a lot of attention for its lifelike characters and the level-headed writing behind those big ideas. This is another one that I will try to review sooner rather than later.
Books I started in September, which I aim to finish ASAP:
Heap House by Edward Carey
I’m having trouble getting into this book, even though it’s exactly the sort of glum story I usually enjoy. I think that I was too frustrated with England when I started reading it, around the time of Scotland’s referendum debates. I’ll definitely give Heap House another try before it comes out, because I certainly expect to be in the mood for some dry Dickensian humor and Gothic misfortune sometime soon.
The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore
It usually takes me over a week to read a book of nonfiction, since I tend to read a novel or two at the same time to balance out my brain. I’m about halfway through The Other Wes Moore. It’s a fascinating book about two boys who grew up in similar circumstances, but one went on to be a White House Fellow and Rhodes scholar while the other went to jail for murder. The details about each boy’s life make the narrative go quickly, but it’s the portrait of what life was like for young black men in Baltimore (and other cities) at the time which makes this such a universally important book. I’ll probably finish reading it next week. October’s nonfiction book will, naturally, be about witches!
Cakes and Ale by W. Somerset Maugham
I read half of this when I visited my house one Sunday. I had just finished reading Blue Lily, Lily Blue and didn’t want to start another fantasy or YA book for fear of finding it disappointing in comparison. Wandering up to my old bedroom, which is now the library where the 80% of my books live, I picked this up at random. Maugham was a good way to waste a few hours, but I don’t know when I’ll be able to get back to it.
All The Wrong Questions # 3: Shouldn’t You Be In School? by Lemony Snicket
That dratted Lemony Snicket! Can’t he ask the right questions for once in his mysterious life?? This third installment of our young apprentice’s attempts to find answers in an unfathomable town just came out on September 30th, but I read a few chapters of it when I got to work early and saw them sitting in a tantalizing stack by the register. I guess I’ll have to buy it to find out why school isn’t the right place to be. (Hint: School is rarely the right place to be when there’s something nefarious afoot.)
So, what’s the final count? Thirteen books and some change. Let’s hope that the momentum continues! But now that I have internet back, it’s time to catch up on what my favorite bloggers have been reading.