September was a good reading month. Rainy evenings at home, a few long drives, and one last week of unemployment before I started a new job gave me ample opportunity to read some excellent books. I started the month finishing the last of the Women’s Prize winners (and a few 2020 shortlist titles) and finished it with a couple of powerful nonfiction reads. Here they are:Continue reading “What I read in September”
Every author has to start somewhere, but while some writers take a few books to find their stride, others manage to create incredible works straight out the gate. Or, perhaps, these authors haven’t even hit their peaks yet, and these debuts are that good but there’s something even more amazing to come. I can’t wait to find out. Here are five of the best debut novels I’ve read so far this year.
Note: These are not all 2020 debuts, just my favourite first novels I’ve read so far in 2020.
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:
While the northern hemisphere is starting to break out its beach reads to get ready for warm, sunny days and relaxed afternoons by the pool, here on the flip side of the world the days are short, the rain is frequent, and the temperature is low. Winter is always when I like to dive into some meaty, challenging books. Of course, I still mix in plenty of fantasy (I’m currently reading Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy for the first time) and fun (hoping the copy of Jake Tapper’s The Hellfire Club I’ve put on hold at the library comes in soon), but there’s no better time to really get stuck in to something long and complicated than when you have no motivation to go outside all day. Here are a couple of books that are on my winter reading list:
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
I only recently found out that Eleanor Catton is a New Zealand author, and that the book is set in New Zealand, and so although it’s been on my to-read list since 2014 (according to goodreads) I am determined to finally read it while I am still in New Zealand. To be honest, what has mostly deterred me up until this point is simply the length; I always try to finish books when I start them, and 800+ pages is a big commitment from an author I have never read before. But it’s apparently a historical fiction ghost story, which sounds right up my alley, so I’m definitely going to give it a go.
Every year I set my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal at 52, an average of one book a week for the entire year. Ideally I would like to spread out my reading in just that way, reading one book each and every week. Of course, that never happens. Sometimes I fly through three books in three months; sometimes it takes me just as long to read a single, long, dense book (for example, last year’s reading choice of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susannah Clarke). Sometimes life gets in the way—I’ve read as almost twice as many books in the month I’ve been home as I did in the nearly three months I spent on the road. However, I’m more or less on track; last night I finished reading Anne Helen Petersen’s Too Fat Too Slutty Too Loud and Goodreads informed me that I have finished 27 books and am therefore halfway to my goal. Next up is Amelia Gray’s latest novel, Isadora, but first, here is a ranking and short review of all the books I’ve read so far this year.
Note 1: I’ve read two series or multiple volumes of a series this year; I’ve grouped them together rather than ranking each separate book.
Note 2: Books published in 2017 marked with a *
Note 3: You’ll notice that I say mostly positive things about all the books on this list. I’m pretty good at this point at guessing whether I’m going to enjoy a book before I pick it up, so I don’t tend to start many duds (which is good, because I’m also determined to finish even a dull book once I’ve opened it).
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):
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.
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.
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.