Books for the sun: summer reading list

I’ve been in Australia for a week, we’re five days into summer (here in Oz, like in NZ, the seasons are determined by the start of the month rather than the solstice), and I’m already not sure I can handle the heat. This was the thing I was most worried about moving to Australia, even if we’re in the relatively-more-temperate Melbourne rather than roasting Sydney or melting Brisbane. Tomorrow’s high is 34C/94F, and Friday it could hit a massive 38C/100F. And it’s only the first week of summer. Send ice.

When it’s that hot, many people love to go to the beach or lounge in the sun, but all I want to do is hide inside with a good book. At the start of winter I wrote about some of the long, dense reads I wanted to get through on the long, cold nights, but for summer heat there’s a reason light page-turners are the ideal. Here’s my to-read list for looking ahead to the days when it’s too hot to think:

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When Your Hero is a Villain

Like many people born between the late-70s and the mid-90s, when I was a teenager I was in love with Johnny Depp. I had seen a few of his movies over the years, but it was when I watched the first Pirates of the Caribbean film at a sleepover that I was struck by Cupid’s arrow. In time-worn fangirl tradition, I plastered my walls with posters of Captain Jack Sparrow. I worked my way through the back catalogue of his filmography, from the famous films like Edward Scissorhands, to the strange and obscure movies such as Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man, to the entire series of his breakout television role, 21 Jumpstreet, binge-watched in those pre-Netflix days on DVDs in my friend’s basement.

Years passed, and my obsession waned. After a while, I didn’t even find his presence in a film to be a draw; the last starring role of his I saw in the cinema was the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean film, a disappointment made even greater by the love I had (and still have) for the original. But still, if you had asked, I would probably—until recently—have called Depp one of my favourite actors.

Then he assaulted his wife.

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Vhy Ve Love Viktor Krum

I just finished rereading the Harry Potter series for the first time in a few years. The earlier books I’ve read and reread at least a dozen times; the later books, fewer, but still three or four times apiece. Usually when I reread a book (which is frequent, with my favourites) I notice something new each time through—some small detail I missed the first time around (or the second, or the third). However, I think I may have finally reached the point where I’ve caught everything there is to catch in the Harry Potter series. For the first time rereading it, there were no moments where I thought “Oh! I hadn’t noticed this before.” I suppose I’m not surprised given that there are a good few passages throughout the series that I know by heart.

In place of lines I feel as though I’d never read before or events that I feel that I am eagerly turning the pages to read for the first time, however, I find myself interested in different characters than I had been on previous read-throughs. I still love the main characters, of course, and I still have my favourite secondary characters, but I notice the awesomeness of various minor characters as if meeting them for the first time. I’ll talk about the three I loved a lot in this most recent reread in this and upcoming posts, beginning with a character I find very underrated (by us, not by the wizarding athletic world): Viktor Krum.

We first meet Krum at the Quidditch World Cup, where he is the star seeker of the Bulgarian NT. Famously, just as Fred and George Weasley predict, he catches the snitch although it is not enough for them to beat Ireland. And as we, and Harry and friends, soon find out, he is not only an incredible Quidditch player but an accomplished wizard at a young age when he arrives at Hogwarts from Durmstrang and is, of course, chosen to compete in the Triwizard Tournament.

Now, at this point we know he’s a good wizard and a great sportsman, but he seems pretty unremarkable as a character apart from being fairly dour. But the more I learned about him reading the books time and again, the more I like him.

The chapter of the books that most exemplifies the reasons I think Krum is an underrated character is not from Goblet of Fire, where he preforms acts of skill, magic, and athletic ability, but his cameo-sized role in Deathly Hallows, at Bill and Fleur’s wedding.

First, there’s the fact that he chooses to attend the wedding to begin with. Sure, Harry’s there, but it’s clearly more for the groom than the bride. Although they were Triwizard Champions together, it seems unlikely that he would’ve showed up to Fleur’s wedding had she been marrying, say, Roger Davies. And while Cedric would likely have gone had it not been for his untimely death, he was known to be friendly and sociable, unlike the surly Krum. And yet Krum makes the trek, showing respect for Fleur by doing something that is important to her.

In a similar way in the fourth book, he showed respect for Harry by noticing and mentioning something important to him (to both of them), his flying skills. Also in the fourth book is, of course, when he dates Hermione, but since that is probably the most well-known aspect of his character I won’t touch much on it since we fans have surely poured enough over their connection and Ron’s ensuing jealousy. The one thing I do want to mention is that when Krum sees Ron and Hermione, he does not seem to be annoyed or feel any anger toward Ron, unlike Ron who still (fairly or not) holds a grudge against Krum. He is understanding of Hermione’s choice.

Instead I want to point out one more important thing that happens at Fleur’s wedding: Krum is angry at seeing the symbol of what we later find out is the Hallows but what Krum describes as the symbol of Grindewald, who passed through school at Durmstrang and became a dark wizard much like Voldemort did at Hogwarts. Despite going to a school known for connections to the Dark Arts and, indeed, having a headmaster during Krum’s time who was a Death Eater, Krum is against Dark wizards such as Grindewald.

What’s interesting about this is that a main criticism levied against J.K. Rowling is that the Slytherins are seen to be almost universally bad. No Slytherin, unsurprisingly, joins the DA, and no Slytherin stays behind to fight to protect Hogwarts in the final battle. The only Slytherins we see do anything good are the ones who are essential to the plot like Snape, Malfoy, Slughorn, and Regulus Black. The others are either outright evil or, in the background, negatively indifferent.

In contrast, while Krum does nothing plot-relevant to fight against the Dark Arts, he is mentioned to be against it, despite having attended what is basically the school version of Slytherin. Whereas Rowling defaults all except a select few plot-critical Slytherin’s to “generally bad,” Krum is specifically good, which makes him an even more interesting and compelling character given his educational background.

Top 10 Books I Read in 2015

As I have for the last three years (that I kept track of thanks to Goodreads) and probably for quite a few years preceding them, I’ve read at least book a week all year. Well, I’ve averaged at least a book a week. Some weeks I’ve read nothing because I was busy binge watching Jessica Jones or Bob’s Burgers. Other weeks I’ve stayed up way too late to finish a book in a night, only to start another the next morning. Either way, I’ve read 50 books so far this year, and I’m on track to read at least three more (the last couple Harry Potter books in my current re-read plus maybe a few others) before the end of the year, so it’s time to talk about my favourites, Here are the top 10 books I’ve read (for the first time) this year (in no particular order):

1

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith – It’s not just because, as I mentioned above, I’m rereading Harry Potter that I’m thinking about how much I love J.K. Rowling’s writing. The second novel in her pseudonymously-published crime trilogy is a tight, tense thriller. Unlike the recent crime series by one of my other favourite authors, Stephen King, which (spoiler alert) sneaks back into the genre for which he’s most known, the Cormoran Strike series is pure crime, and it’s awesome.

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride – This has been on my to-read list since it came out a few years ago and I finally got around to reading it a few weeks back. I wish I’d gotten to it sooner but it was worth the wait, Half poem, half stream of consciousness, this isn’t an easy read due to both the style and the content, but again, it’s worth the effort.

2

Death in Spring by Merce Rodoreda – My coworker recommended this to me with the pronouncement of “Best Book I’ve Read This Year.” While it’s hard for me to narrow my favourites down even for this top ten list, let alone pick a number one, but I can understand why he said it. A dark, surreal story full of magical realism and part-allegory for Franco’s dictatorship, this novel by one of Catalunya’s most celebrated writers can be read in a weekend but will stay with you for much longer.

Crime & Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky – The thing that always surprises me about Russian lit is how readable it is. I always expect it to be dense and dry it’s dense but also full of murder. I didn’t like Crime and Punishment as much as The Brothers Karamazov, but I still found it immensely enjoyable and I’m looking forward to reading more of Dostoeky’s work, and more work by Russian authors, in 2016.

Funny Girl by Nick Hornby – Nick Hornby’s books are always favourites of mine, with few exceptions, and Funny Girl is not one of those exceptions. His female characters have never really stood out to me in other books but there’s something so affecting about the ingenue-turned-comedienne protagonist of this one that makes her as memorable to me as a reader as it does to her fictional audiences.

The Commitments by Roddy Doyle – Roddy Doyle is one of the best contemporary Irish writers, whether in novels, short stories, or in clever dialogues about current events posted on his facebook. Steve gaves me The Barrytown Trilogy for Christmas and all three novels about the working-class Dublin family the Rabbittes are darkly comic and entertaining, but the first of the trilogy is the best.

3

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – My mom recommended this one to me. When I first started reading it I was surprised she enjoyed it so much; it’s certainly not her usual genre. It’s definitely mine, but it just goes to show that this book is good enough that it finds fans who wouldn’t usually look for dystopian fiction. So even if it doesn’t sound like your thing, it might be worth a look.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik – Adult fairy tales are as trendy right now as adult colouring books, which I love, but many of them fall flat for me trying to make “edgy” versions of classic stories. If I wanted a darker version of the Little Mermaid, I’d reread the original. Uprooted, unlike these retellings, is an original take on classic fairy tale tropes, and it’s dark and spooky and absolutely magical.

Nos4A2 by Joe Hill – Speaking of dark and spooky, this book creeped the hell out of me. It started off slow—I actually tried to read it a time or two before I actually got through it and put it down because it didn’t grab me even though I love the rest of Hill’s books—but once I was into it, I couldn’t stop.

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater – The Raven Cycle is the uber-hyped Young Adult series du jour (what a multilingual clause!) and it deserves that hype. I was hoping I’d be able to read the fourth book in the series this year but unfortunately its publication has been pushed back until April 2016. But that gives you plenty of time to get up to date! And me time to reread the first three, probably.

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (2012): 4/5 stars

Before I begin this review, I’d like to take a moment and say that I’m sick of reviews referring to The Casual Vacancy as J.K. Rowling’s first novel for adults. While the Harry Potter books certainly originated as a series for children, the themes, particularly in the last three books, are appropriate for those who grew up with the series (I was in elementary school when the first book was released, and high school when Deathly Hallows came out), as well as younger readers and, yes, adults. However, I am alright with reviewers describing The Casual Vacancy as Rowling’s first book marketed toward adults because I do think that’s true—and I don’t think I would advise it be read by anyone under the age of twelve or so, due to the amount of profanity and sexual content (and violence, but then again, Deathly Hallows).

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