I seem to be about a month behind in doing these–and it’s only getting worse–but I managed to read 7 books in February thanks to the audiobook help. Here’s what I thought of all of them.
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It’s so hard to even review Split Tooth by Tanya Tagaq because I had such a hard time understanding the book. This is a heartbreaking story about a teenage girl growing up in the 70s in Nunavut, told in a mix of prose and poems and written by an acclaimed Inuit throat singer. I listened to the audiobook and Tagaq narrates and performs throughout the book. Unfortunately, even though it was interesting to listen to Tagaq perform, I really didn’t like her voice as a narrator, which was very breathy, and ultimately I think I would have enjoyed Split Tooth more if I had just read a print edition.
Split Tooth is definitely the kind of book I often felt like I didn’t quite understand but still appreciated. There is a mix of magical realism or odd animal encounters interspersed with passages on everyday life for Inuit people. The story is bold and vivid. I found the little details describing the effects of colonialism on the Inuit particularly powerful, even if I sometimes lost track of what was actually going on with the narrator’s story. It’s honestly not a pleasant book to read, but I think it is an important one. There were so many beautiful and terrible moments, I just wish I hadn’t been so lost along the way. Ultimately, Split Tooth is actually a book I wish I had read in an English class so that I could discuss it and better understand it.
I’d say I love a mystery-thriller in the wintertime, but the truth is, I love them year-round. That said, the snowy setting of The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley makes it a perfect read for this time of year. The Hunting Party is the story of a group of college friends who get together in to celebrate New Years at a remote cabin in the Scottish Highlands. The book alternates perspectives and between the past and present, but one thing is clear from the beginning: somebody is dead, and somebody is a killer.
The atmosphere of The Hunting Party is amazing. It’s this story of wealthy, dangerous people, which I love, and the isolated setting with the whodunit plot is such a fun classic that is seen so rarely these days, although I did love Shari Lapena’s An Unwanted Guest last year. Because I loved that book, it was hard not to compare to Foley’s, which I really enjoyed, but just not quite as much. The main difference was that even though Foley does a good job creating a diverse and intriguing cast of characters, I never connected to any of them which meant, I was curious about what happened but I didn’t feel emotionally invested and I wasn’t rooting for anyone in particular. There are also a few too many points-of-view for my preference. The outcome is a little predictable, but the journey is an engaging and enjoyable read. Overall, while The Hunting Party may not be my new favourite thriller, I’d certainly recommend it if you enjoy books in this style, and if the plot caught my attention I can see myself reaching for Foley’s work again in the future.
As a twin myself, the twin mystery novel is a trope I especially enjoy, but the curious thing about The Au Pair by Emma Rous is that this book features fraternal twins––which I am, but it seems like most books go for the identical twin option. The story is told from the perspective of Seraphine, who, after her father dies suddenly, discovers a photo of her mother holding a single twin. Her mother died the day Seraphine and her twin brother, Danny, were born, and now Seraphine is left wondering, who is the baby in the photo? The quest to answer that question quickly reveals a much darker and layered mystery. The narrative alternatives between Seraphine in the present, and the perspective of Laura, the au pair in 1991, the year that the twins were born.
The strength of The Au Pair is definitely the atmosphere and the narrators. The story takes place primarily on the family’s estate on the Norfolk coast in England, the beach and the home play a crucial role in the plot. Rous really brings the setting to life, and although the story has a slow start, it definitely builds. I also appreciated that it felt like you couldn’t really trust the narrators, which left me questioning throughout story. My main complaint about the book is that, I didn’t really like the way things wrapped up, it felt too convenient, complicated, and improbable. Unfortunately, a good ending is so important to a good mystery. However, The Au Pair is a debut novel and there’s some lovely writing so I’d definitely consider reading more from Rous in the future.
The Black Coats by Colleen Oakes is a young adult novel about a secret society of vigilante women who enact vengeance on those who have harmed women. Thea, a former competitive runner, is mourning the murder of her cousin, who was more like a sister to her, when she is recruited to join the society. But as the “balancings”, or acts of revenge”, increase in violence, Thea must decide who, and what, she believes in.
Thea is definitely one of the best parts of The Black Coats. She’s dealing with complicated emotions, and Oakes does a good job showing the grief and the desire to move on that Thea is tackling. I also really liked the idea of this mix of girls who had nothing else in common being thrown together by this secret society, and while the characters could have had more depth, I did like seeing them work together. Unfortunately, I didn’t care for the romance and, despite the gripping premise, I actually found the plot fell a bit flat. It was predictable and the story often seemed reminiscent of a movie I’d already seen. There was just something cartoonish about the whole thing, especially when it came to the bad guys. Overall, The Black Coats isn’t a new favourite read for me, but if the plot intrigues you, it might be worth picking up.
I picked up Carrie by Stephen King because I have been wanting to read more from the author for awhile, and I figured I’d start at the beginning, ie: his very first book. The fact that my library had an audiobook of it narrated by Sissy Spacek (even if it had a super long wait list!) made it even better, and I really enjoyed finally reading this classic horror novel. The audiobook narration is perfect and I also really appreciated the introduction to the novel by King.
If you’re not familiar with it, Carrie is the story of a bullied teenage girl who develops telekinetic powers and uses them to take revenge on her classmates at prom. I hadn’t realized that the novel is told in dossier format, with a mix of interviews and book excerpts. I really love this format and I was surprised to see it used in a book published in 1974, but I felt like it really gave the story depth and complexity to see the broader context. The book itself is compelling, well-written, and both sad and a little scary at the same time. Overall, I highly recommend Carrie if you haven’t read it before, and I am definitely looking forward to the next King read on my list, ‘Salem’s Lot.
The Night Olivia Fell by Christina McDonald tells the story of Abi, a single mother who gets a horrible phone call: her teenage daughter Olivia has fallen off a bridge. Olivia is brain dead, but pregnant, and must remain on life support to keep the baby alive. The police tell Abi it was an accident, but was it?
Even though The Night Olivia Fell sounds like a mystery, and even though I spent the book wanting to know what really happened to Olivia, I think the strength of the novel and the writing is the emotion behind in. I listened to the audiobook, which was well-narrated, and the ending in particular just broke my heart. I see the book compared to Big Little Lies and it’s definitely similar in the sense that while it does leave you wanting to know what happened, it’s really a story about people. The novel is interspersed with flashbacks from Olivia’s perspective, which was a little strange in the YA blended with adult fiction kind of way, and there were a few elements that were just a little too unbelievable. Still, overall I enjoyed the writing and there were a few good surprises mixed in. If you are looking for an emotional story with a mysterious element, I recommend The Night Olivia Fell, and I’d definitely pick up another book by McDonald in the future.
I absolutely adored the Wayward Children series when I began it last year, which had me impatiently waiting for the recent publication of In An Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire. It did not disappoint! Similar to Down Among the Sticks and Bones, this novel goes back in time to tell the origin story of Lundy. Lundy is a serious young girl who finds a doorway to a world founded on logic, and she can stay if she wants, but she has to decide before her 18th birthday.
I listened to the audiobook of In An Absent Dream which is narrated by Cynthia Hopkins, who also narrated Every Heart a Doorway, and I adored it. Despite the few number of pages/minutes, all the characters come to life, and while none of the stories in the Wayward Children series is really happy, Lundy’s is especially heartbreaking. Like all the books in the series, the atmosphere of this novel is incredible and I’m really just obsessed with McGuire’s writing. It’s really magical, and not just because fo the topic. I’m so thrilled this series has been extended but I can’t believe I now have to wait until 2020 for the fifth novel, Come Tumbling Down.
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And that’s it for February! It has definitely not been my most productive reading year, especially compared to last year, but I’ve had a ton of work and life things on my plate so I’m happy to have read the books I’ve managed and it was especially great to end the month with such a lovely read. Next up, March!
What have you been reading lately? Have you picked up any of these books?