It’s been quite a while since I’ve done any reviews. But I haven’t stopped reading books; I’ll never stop reading books. I’ve just been lazy about writing about what I’ve been reading. Here are some of the books I’ve liked best that I’ve read since October of 2013, which is on odd place to start, but that simply happens to be how my resources are aligning.
So without further ado:
Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang
I’ve loved Gene Luen Yang’s books ever since American Born Chinese. This set of two is about the Boxer Rebellion, but also so much more. And it doesn’t pull any historical punches–the politics are simplified very slightly for the sake of the format, but the turmoil and upheaval that people experienced and the danger and death that were very real consequences of (in)actions are not simplified in any way. This is pretty much the height of what graphic novels can aspire to, and the fact that it’s about an essentially forgotten chapter of history (at least as far as the West is concerned) only makes it that much more powerful. Aimed at teens, but certainly not the only audience who could benefit from reading this. And that it’s been nominated for awards like mad is only icing on the cake.
Ironskin and Copperhead by Tina Connolly
For all that I loathe the Brontës, I have something of a Thing about reading retellings of their works, and I don’t quite know why. I hate Wutherine Heights *so much* that I have yet to find a retelling that works for me, but there’s several reworkings of Jane Eyre that I like a lot more than the original book. Ironskin is one of them. It takes place in roughly post-WWI era, although in Jane Elliot’s world the Great War was with the fey. Now humanity is struggling to come to grips with the aftermath of a devastating war, and also to figure out whether or not the fey have in fact been as soundly defeated as it seems. Copperhead continues the story, but focuses on Jane’s sister Helen–and isn’t a retelling of anything. Helen has to deal with the choices she made during the war, and while she might not be a veteran with obvious physical scars like Jane, she has her own struggles to overcome and personal demons to battle. The third book in the series is due out this fall, and will move forward eighteen years to focus on Dorie Rochart, Jane’s ward. I really really hope, from the description, that it is going to be a Tam Lin retelling, which is one of my personal all-time favorite catnips.
The Treachery of Beautiful Things by Ruth Frances Long
And speaking of personal all-time favorite catnips…when Jenny was 10, her brother Tom was kidnapped into faerie, literally swallowed in front of her by the forest and never seen again. Seven years later, after a lot of therapy, Jenny has decided to brave her terror and unhappiness and visit the place of his disappearance to say goodbye before she leaves for university. When Jenny suddenly receives an unmistakable sign that Tom is still alive, she charges into the forest to rescue him, heedless of both her terror and the danger. It’s a Tam Lin retelling, with a twist! And a terribly unfortunate cover that has nothing much to do with the book. This version of faerie is much grittier and nastier than the cover would lead you to believe. This is right up there with Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin as one of my favorite retellings of the ballad.
Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, 1839-42 by William Dalrymple
There is a longer history of Westerners messing around in Afghanistan that many may realize. And it never, ever goes well. Ever. This book covers the first Anglo-Afghan war (Dr Watson was wounded in the second one, if that’s your only reference), and it did not go well. First the British depose a king, then the install a weak puppet king, then they start messing about with Russia in the Great Game, then they ignore every conceivable sign that the region is about to go to hell in a very violent way, and then they are outraged when the natives turn on them and massacre them. And then, a generation later, THEY DO THE SAME THING OVER AGAIN. *facepalm* This book was a morbidly fascinating study of how not to run an empire, and also a chilling example of just how badly everything can possibly go when said empire does finally crumble. I need to read the other Dalrymple books I have sitting around, he is an excellent writer.
Monument Road by Charlie Quimby
I confess, I was not planning on reading this book. I went to an event at Magers & Quinn that featured Charlie Quimby and PS Duffy together; I was there mostly for Penny, as I thought her book would be a good title for a library program. (I still do, she’s coming to my library this fall.) But as I listened to the two of them read from their respective books and talk about how they came to write them, I became intrigued by Charlie’s book. So when I got home, I requested it from the library. And when I finally got it, I was stunned by what I had read. The characters lived and breathed on the page, and I experienced their highest highs and their lowest lows right alongside them. My heart broke for Junior, and sang for Len. I devoured it in two days, and went out and bought my own copy. Because this is a book that I will want to read again and again, and I hope you will too. And then I invited Charlie to come to my library.
Little Failure: A Memoir by Gary Shteyngart
While I may not have developed a history of drugs and drinking like Gary Shteyngart, I can certainly relate to his fish out of water childhood. In my case I moved from the US to Germany, a few years later than his family’s move from Leningrad to Queens. But the complete lack of the familiar, the desperate attempts to fit in, and the strange sense that you are living halfway between two worlds is very familiar. Not to mention the fact that you have no idea what anyone is saying. (In all fairness, my classmates viewed me as a novelty, and were generally very kind and willing to make friends. I was absolutely in no way an outcast like he was.) I think that is why I generally enjoy this sort of memoir: I too have experienced this.
The Good Lord Bird by James McBride
A funny book about John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, an event credited as being an impetus to the American Civil War? Well, yes, actually. Very funny, until you realize that there are also quite a few uncomfortable and ugly truths being exposed by the humor. Henry Shackleford may only be 12 (or possibly 14), and mistaken for a girl at that, but he observes with a sharp eye, and has an even sharper voice. It’s basically a picaresque, except I’ve realized when I use that word to describe it to patrons, not a lot of people are familiar with that term. It’s a tragedy told as low comedy–you know that it’s going to end badly for pretty much everyone involved, but you have to go on the journey with them because it’s such a good ride to get there. On a side note, I’m horrified and fascinated that it’s apparently “soon to be a major motion picture,” because what really makes this novel shine is Henry’s voice, and I’m not sure how that can be captured on film without a lot of tedious voice-over. So read the book before it, like so many others, is ruined by being made into a movie.
Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat
This book seems deceptively slight, and on the surface, not a lot happens. In the opening chapter, Claire runs away on the evening of her seventh birthday. This is simply a starting point, and as the story winds its way through Ville Rose, the seemingly unconnected characters reveal a greater depth to the narrative. Some connections are obvious, while some have to be teased out slowly. It is a gorgeous piece of writing, luminous and evocative. I loved this book, and I need to go back and read more of Danticat’s work.
Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch
What if Harry Potter didn’t know he was Harry Potter? What if he grew up and joined the police, and THEN found out he was Harry Potter? That is a rough premise for these books, but it in no way does them justice. Peter Grant is just finishing his basic constable duties, and is about to be assigned to the division that will determine the rest of his career. And then he sees a ghost. Which is ridiculous, because surely ghosts don’t exist! Except maybe they do, and maybe there’s a little known, not-quite-secret, special branch of the police that deals with supernatural matters, and Peter has just been recruited to it. I don’t remember how I found out about his series (I think it might have been a list of Best Adult Books for Readers Who Love Harry Potter somewhere), but I’m so glad I did. The series is really fun, and I like the mix of magic and police procedural, both of which are solidly developed. They aren’t terribly well known in the US, which is a pity, but are quite popular in the UK. The fifth book is due out this fall, and I can’t wait.
Saga written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples
Two soldiers from opposing sides of an intergalactic war fall in love and have a baby. And everyone wants them dead. This is the story of how they attempt to survive. OMG I love Saga so so much. Markoa and Alana are a realistic couple, baby Hazel is adorable, Marko’s parents are great, The Will is surprisingly honorable, The Stalk is creepy, Slave Girl breaks my heart, I WANT A LYING CAT, Gwendolyn kicks ass, and oh oh oh you really need to read these right now. They are about love and war and life and death and just everything. The story is great, but the art is what truly makes these books, and I can’t wait for the next volume to come out.
The Story of Owen Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E. K. Johnston
I loved this book. I liked the dragons: I liked how the dragons were inserted into our world with surprisingly little effort, I liked the thought that went into what the dragons wanted, and I liked how the dragons were not romanticized. And I really liked the relationships between the characters, especially Owen and Siobhan. They are friends. Just friends. Not YA-book-friends-but-really-in-love-with-each-other, just friends. They like each other, they respect each other, and they support each other, but friendship is the sum total of their relationship. And that is so refreshing! I also enjoy the fact that Siobhan’s parents aren’t happy about her becoming Owen’s bard because of the obvious associated dragon dangers, but they respect that this is their daughter’s calling, and they let her live her life for herself. I thought the ending was going to be different, and had already braced myself, and was therefore quite pleased.
The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee
This book was not what I was expecting, based on the review I remember reading, but I am not at all disappointed I read it. In fact, I think the book I read was better than the book I expected. Based on the review, I thought I was going to get a vaguely magical-realism-fantasy book about a magic dress and a missing girl, sort of a reworked fairy tale. What I got was basically a [GIANT SPOILER ALERT] murder mystery with some hints of romance and maybe a titch of magic thrown in. [END SPOILER ALERT] The story takes place in the late 1980s, which is never clearly stated, but I think works to its advantage. It wouldn’t be the same story in the age of cell phones and the internet and heightened awareness about personal safety. I also like how it is structured, because it takes you a while to figure out what is going on, and then it is a little bit of a punch in the gut when you finally do.
So there you are, some books I’ve read that I liked. And if you want to keep track of what I’m reading, you can always check out my LibraryThing account, I’m pretty good at keeping that up to date.