Welcome to the first wrap up of 2019 from me, and the first post after my hiatus! So happy new year and let’s get into it!
The Bear by Claire Cameron
This was a mixed one, for sure. This story is inspired by the true events of a bear attack, in which a couple on Bates Island in 1991 were killed. In the foreword, Cameron claims she took the story and ‘added the children’. The book follows these two children, Anna and Stick, trying to survive in the wilderness after their parents are killed. I was a little bit uncomfortable finding out that it was based on a true story but tried to put that aside to focus on the book itself.
At first, the tension was great, but then began almost bordering on traumatic, and there were moments when I had to put the book down. However, once the attack is over and it’s just the children trying to survive, I have to say I started to get bored. As the book is narrated in first person by a five year-old, it has that child’s inner monologue that slowed everything down so much, which was a feat for such a small book.
In the end, I was glad to have finished it. This was just a random book that was accidentally sent to me by the library, or I don’t think I would have picked it up.
The Lola Quartet by Emily St John Mandel
This was a huge improvement on The Bear, another one I finished in one sitting. The Lola Quartet follows a group of musicians of the same name – consisting of Jack, Daniel, Sasha, and Gavin, and his girlfriend, Anna. When Anna disappeared at the end of senior year, Gavin moves on, despite rumours that she was pregnant. Ten years later, Gavin is given a photograph of a ten year old girl who looks exactly like Gavin’s sister. What follows is a story of love, desperation, poverty, a pissed off meth dealer, and a stolen $120,000.
I loved the tone, the characters, and the questions it raised in me. This is one of those books that the longer I sit on it, the more I see how clever it is.
Maus by Art Spiegelman
If you’re not already familiar with Maus, this is a graphic novel documenting Art’s interviews with his father – a Polish Jew imprisoned in Auschwitz during WWII – and a reconstruction of his experiences through those interviews.
It’s just as heart-breaking and difficult to read as everyone told me it would be, but I also think it’s incredibly important. If you can cope with the content, I think this book should be on everyone’s TBR.
The Girl in the Tower and The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden
These are the second and final books in the Winternight Trilogy, and holy shit, I loved them so, so, so much. Honestly, a new favourite fantasy series for sure.
In the first book, The Bear and the Nightingale, we follow young Vasya, a Russian girl who can see and communicate with spirits of every kind, including the mystery figures The Winter King, Morozko, and the one-eyed Bear.
The trilogy explores the realm of fairytales, demons, spirits, and whimsy – and what happens when that meets with the rise of Christianity. Faith is a huge theme, but it doesn’t read like a religious book, and I (as an atheist) feel like it’s accessible to everyone.
The remote setting of Medieval Russian villages makes you cold to your bones, in my case, even under layers and layers of blankets. It was perfect to read with the snow falling outside, though the book is so atmospheric that I was so engrossed in the story that I didn’t notice the weather.
The Winternight Trilogy has one of my all time favourite angsty, slow-burn romances, so if that’s one of your buzzwords, you’ve got to pick the first book up.
I have a review of the trilogy coming up soon where I’ll go a lot more in depth, but trust me, you need to get to this one.
The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith
This is definitely a book on the heavier side, centring on our protagonist, Eden, after she is raped by her brother’s best friend in her freshman year. The book follows her life post-trauma, split into freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior year.
What really stuck out for me in this book is that it showed a different side to trauma that isn’t often explored. Eden covers up her hurt with sharp words and some really terrible decisions, which makes for a very, very messy character. But that’s what I appreciated the most. I found her to be so real, and even though she had me banging by head against the page with some of her actions and frustrated me to no end with how she treated the people around her, I understood her motivations.
The Way I Used to Be is an incredibly important book, if you are able to handle the subject matter.
Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram
I listened to this via audiobook, which was the perfect decision. If you have the opportunity, the book translates so well into audio!
Darius the Great Is Not Okay follows Darius an Iranian American teenage nerd with clinical depression and anxiety, as he travels to Iran for the first time to meet his terminally ill grandfather. There, he struggles with his Iranian identity, bonds with the family he has only ever shared company with over Skype, and finds his first true friend in a boy named Sohrab, who makes it his mission for Darius to feel enough.
Can I say that a book was a joy if it had me crying at 4AM on a Monday morning?
I loved so much about this book, from the mental health representation that just spoke to me, how much of an unapologetic nerd Darius is, his relationship with Sorrab, his relationship with his little sister, the setting of Iran, and watching Darius coming to accept himself for who he is.
If you’re looking for a diverse, funny, and subtly heart-wrenching contemporary, I can’t recommend Darius the Great Is Not Okay enough.
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Oof, this book made an impact.
It seems like everyone knows and has read The Giver, but I think it must have been more popular in America because the first I heard of it was in my teens. It was just a title stored in the back of my mind, so when I saw it pop up at the library, I thought I’d give it a go.
The concept is so interesting, and I found that it was executed just as well. In Jonas’s community, everything is uniform, everything is dictated, and everything is in order. That is until Jonas is given the job of Receiver during the Ceremony of Twelve, and his eyes are opened to how the world used to be.
A lot of the criticism I see for this book is that it isn’t developed enough, but I think it was just developed enough for it to work as it does for children. I’d have loved to read this in school, part for the interesting questions it raises, part for the creepy and unfamiliar world, but part because of how quick and easy it was to read. There’s a lot to be left to your own imagination, which I think is a great thing in middle-grade.
I hadn’t anticipated carrying on with the series but now I think I will, and maybe branch out more into middle-grade in 2019!
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
Yes. That’s all I’ve got to say.
This is the clever, incredibly-written, intense fantasy I’ve been waiting for. Everything from the plot, the pacing, the twists, to the characters you can’t help but root for, everything about this book is just brilliant.
The Fifth Season is an adult fantasy/dystopian following a woman named Essun, an orogene (someone with the ability to detect and manipulate the movements in earth) whose son has been murdered and her daughter kidnapped, by her husband. What follows is a high-stakes story of the lengths Essun will go to find her daughter and the political machinations of a world oppressing its magic-wielders, all set inside the dying land of Sanze.
I had originally planned to read this for Black-a-thon, but read the opening chapter on a whim and oops, there the rest of the book (and my day) went. Needless to say, I loved this book so much and if you’re wary of the hype – don’t worry and go for it!
A pretty great reading month to kick off the year! I wish I’d read more but the ones I got to – namely The Fifth Season and the Winternight Trilogy – more than made up for that.
What were some of your January favourites?