12 books down in September/October, including 1 re-read, 2 non-fiction, and 2 comic bind-ups. I may have been terrible about blogging this year, but at least I’m doing well on the whole “read a lot of books” thing.
The Bad Beginning and The Reptile Room, by Lemony Snicket
I’ve read TBB before, but I recently grabbed a few more of the books in the Series of Unfortunate Event from a yard sale and thought I’d finally read them. The Baudelaire children are orphaned and sent to live with a terrible relative, Count Olaf, who attempts to get his hands on their fortune through whatever means possible. The first one still holds up; the plot is silly and inventive, and the children are charming. But by the second book, where the children are sent to live with a new relative and yet Count Olaf still manage to show up and ruin things, feels repetitive and kind of obnoxious, at least through grown-up eyes. There’s only so many times you can suspend your disbelief that the adults in this world are so clueless. Probably, like my experience with A Wrinkle in Time, it’s just one of those books you have to read as a kid to fully appreciate.
The Affinities, by Robert Charles Wilson
I mean, it was pitched to me as “Myers-Briggs meets Divergent,” so I obviously had to read it. I have to say, though, it was kinda disappointing.
The book is set in a near future, where a company has created a test to sort people into “affinities,” groupings of like-minded and similarly-motivated people. Testing is voluntary, and not everyone who does take the test fits in one of the 22 groups. If you do match with an affinity, you are connected to a “tranche” of people in your area who are in your affinity. At the beginning of the novel, this is still a relatively new practice, regarded by many as just another dating service or a way to pay for friends.
The protagonist, Adam Fisk, is lonely and directionless, so he decides to take the test. He winds up in one of the largest affinities, Tau, and immediately he feels like he has found his place. He moves into the tranche house, begins to hang out only with Taus, etc. it’s harmless enough, at least at first. Eventually the affinity test grows into a worldwide phenomenon, and affinity-specific companies and services begin to crop up. Affinities begin to exert greater influence on government and major corporations, and the larger affinities start to wage turf wars.
There were a lot of things I wanted from this book that I just didn’t get. I wanted a more fleshed-out explanation of the Affinity brain-mapping and of the affinities themselves (we really only get descriptions of Tau and the other large affinity, Het). I wanted a larger scope to the story (Adam was a semi-obnoxious narrator). I just wanted something more meaningful that what the book wound up being, which was a quasi-sermon on the us vs. them/sorting people into rigid boxes mentality. But I didn’t get it. Alas.
Hawkeye, Vol. 1: My Life as a Weapon, by Matt Fraction
I’m all about some Hawkeye in the MCU movies (Gimme more, Kevin Feige!), so I picked this up from the library to dive a little further into his world. It was definitely darker than Captain Marvel, with Clint Barton recruited by SHIELD by retrieve a packet of evidence that would incriminate both SHIELD and Barton himself. It also heavily features Kate Bishop, who I now adore (there’s a Young Avengers comic tucked in the book as well). The sketch-style artwork in the first three comics in the book were really stunning and fit well with the tone of the story. The art style changed later in the bind-up, which made me a little sad, but the colors remained consistent so it didn’t affect my mental flow too badly. If you’re looking for a slightly less bubbly comic bind-up, this might be what you’re looking for.
Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality, by Donald Miller
There are some really nice individual thoughts in this book. Like, pieces of this book were actually quite insightful and theologically sound. But the rest of the book around it….I don’t know. It just didn’t sit right with me. It read like “feel good” Christianity, with Miller smoothing out the rough edges and tricky spots of faith to make life easier. There was a lot of “I’m a Christian, but I’m not…” type segments, written in such a way that he felt he had to prove himself to the “cool kids” that he could be a Christian and still hang out with them. 2.5 stars from me.
A Darker Shade of Magic, by V.E. Schwab
This is a universe where magic and parallel worlds exist. The doors between the worlds used to be open, but when magic became too strong and began to strangle one of the worlds, the doors were closed and only the Antari (blood magicians, and incredibly rare) are able to travel between them. In each world, there is a London: Grey London, in a world without magic (aka our world); Red London, in a world where magic flows in a healthy manner and humans can control the power; White London, in a world where magic is strong but scarce and the crown is held by whomever has killed their way to the top; and Black London, in the world consumed by magic and forbidden to even the Antari.
When Kell, the Antari messenger of Red London, is caught smuggling objects from one world to the next, he flees to Grey London and meets Delilah Bard, a pickpocket and wannabe pirate with ambitions of her own. Describing anything that comes next might spoil things, so I won’t go any further than to say the story spirals from there.
It took me a really long time to make progress on this one, and I eventually wound up liking it enough to finish it but not enough to want to read the second one when it comes along. I couldn’t connect to the characters (though I really liked Delilah), and I found myself getting aggravated at Kell especially.
September and I didn’t find a lot of fantastic reads, now that I think about it.
The Bees, by Laline Paul
This was the most unique thing I’ve read all year. It is a novel about life in a beehive, told by a bee narrator. It’s described as The Handmaid’s Tale meets The Hunger Games (I really only agree with the first half). It is beyond my ability to adequately describe, so here is the GoodReads link.
While I enjoyed the idea of the novel, it was just difficult to wrap my brain around a book where bees are the characters. Sometimes verbs like “run” were used, another other times it was more bee-like verbs, and my brain just couldn’t take it. Glad I read it, won’t make it a part of my collection.
Why Not Me?, by Mindy Kaling
All hail Queen Mindy. To quote Makenna Lang, “Home girl just gets it.” I’ve read Mindy’s first memoir at least three times, possibly four, and it’s wonderful each time. This one covered less childhood aspects and more about her life in the last few years, mostly regarding her show The Mindy Project and life as a showrunner and actress. It doesn’t hit as many of the relatable notes as her first book did, but it is still an absolute gem and 100% worth reading.
Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal, by G. Willow Wilson
This bind-up has been herald across the Internet as an absolute delight, and that is completely accurate. Teenage Kamala Khan is a typical girl from New Jersey, struggling with the conflicts between her Pakistani and Muslim heritage and her desire to fit in as a “normal American” at school. She suddenly finds herself with cosmic powers like her hero, Carol Danvers (who recently shed the Ms. Marvel mantle to become Captain Marvel), and is confronted with how to handle this new aspect of her life. It’s fun, it has depth, and I just truly enjoyed reading it. The art style was different than I was used to, but it was easy to adjust.
The Queen of the Tearling, by Erika Johansen
Again, another fantasy novel that took me a bit to get into, but once I got hooked I absolutely sped through the rest. This is the first in a series, set in a medieval-feeling world that is actually our Earth in a future-regressed society (the history is dealt with in the book, and it explains it far better than I could). Kelsea Raleigh is our protagonist, the princess of the Tearling, hidden in a cottage in the woods with her mother’s advisors when she was a baby to protect her. But Kelsea is now 19, and she must take her rightful place as Queen of the Tearling. The journey home is fraught with danger, but she invites even greater danger on her kingdom by a decision she makes when she reaches her castle (the “Keep”).
I was so impressed by the creativity of the world and how Johansen is careful to only reveal what is necessary at the time. Kelsea is a very feminist character, dedicated to freedom and fairness. She makes a point to welcome battered women and their children into her Keep, which had me cheering.
What kept this from being a 5-star book for me was Johansen’s fairly obvious feelings about certain topics. Bits of the book felt like personal rants about the importance of books and the rights of women, both of which I fully support, but it took me out the world. What rubbed me wrong the most was Johansen’s extremely negative portrayal of organized religion. God’s Church, as it’s called in the book, is full of every bad scandal the church (Catholicism in particular) has been a part/accused of, and the Queen is essentially contemptuous of the church and its priests. I mean, I would be, too, if church was only like it is in the Tearling, but I’m just pretty sure Johansen had some bad experiences with church in her lifetime and it’s coming through in her writing. I still recommend reading the book, but just keep that in mind.
Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell
Cath is a freshman in college, and she is not adjusting well. Between her twin sister who is having no issues acclimating to college life, her father suffering from mental health issues, her mother trying to return to her life, and her growing feelings for her roommate’s boyfriend, Cath’s life is a bit frazzled to say the least. She shelters herself in the safe world of Simon Snow fanfiction, where she is a big-name author, but drawing her out into the real world is proving to be a difficult task.
I liked this book, but I didn’t love it. I couldn’t connect with Cath on much, and felt myself wanting more from the supporting characters as opposed to her. Maybe this is a YA book I’ve just gotten a touch too old to fully enjoy.
A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness
This is a lovely, haunting monster story whose plot I absolutely will not sum up because you just need to read it and cry.
I’d like to say a special thank you to the Jefferson County Library Cooperative for enabling my #fictionaddiction over the last two months. All but three of these books were borrowed, saving me so much money. So thank you, JCLC. I owe you one.