Oh, hi. As usual, I’m late, but in 2019 I’ve made an effort to photograph and review the books I’m reading on instagram (find me here @writingwhimsy) so that I don’t have a huge number left at a time and it feels a lot more satisfying that way. I’ll definitely still do monthly roundups here though, so here are the books I read in January 2019.
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I suppose the good thing about not finishing Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand until 2019 is that it made it just a little bit easier to pick my favourite books of 2018, because if I had read this in time, it probably would have made the list. This YA fantasy novel focuses on three girls; Marion, who just moved to Sawkill after the death of her father, Zoey, who is still dealing with the disappearance of her best friend, and Val, rich, privileged, and full of secrets. The synopsis of this book is so weird and twisted you really have to just read it, but basically these girls are all involved in the mystery of girls who have been vanishing from Sawkill.
The atmosphere of Sawkill Girls is so spooky and wonderful and I just loved all the odd details, like the moths and the horses. It honestly should have been a fall read for me but it took a couple months for the library audiobook hold to come in. The audiobook is excellent but I loved this story so much I may have to pick up a hard copy to reread it and make sure I absorb everything. Legrand’s writing is beautiful and all three main characters are unique and complex and filled with passion. I also thought the two relationships depicted in the book were really well done. I did feel like the very ending of the book was a little disappointing in the sense that I felt it gave me (the reader) what I wanted when what I actually would have really loved was something a little darker. That said, I really just adored the novel and while Sawkill Girls is my first book by Legrand, it definitely won’t be my last. I can’t wait to explore more of her weird and wonderful worlds.
When a final book is released posthumously by a Canadian icon, I obviously had to pick it up, and The Flame by Leonard Cohen even has an audiobook narrated by a diverse cast that includes Margaret Atwood, Seth Rogen, and Michael Shannon. It’s a collection of poems, lyrics, and selections from Cohen’s many notebooks. There are also a lot of drawings included throughout the collection. I definitely enjoyed the poetry section the most, as I generally find reading lyrics a bit repetitive, and the poetry is definitely the most polished of the writing. Still, it was very interesting to see a glimpse inside Cohen’s mind with the excerpts from his journals, and I thought it was really neat when the book included a scan of Cohen’s handwritten copy as well.
Overall, Cohen was exceptionally self-aware, and his writing is filled with confessional moments and raw imagery, I just often did find a personal connection to the writing, which is what prevents me from rating it higher. That said, The Flame is definitely a valuable last collection from a Canadian icon, and a worthwhile read for anyone interested in Cohen’s work.
There’s a freedom to reading at the very beginning of the year, when I haven’t yet bogged down my TBR with new releases, and it gave me the chance to finally pick up Sourdough by Robin Sloan, a weird and whimsical novel I’d been interested in reading for months. Even better, I was able to borrow a print and audio copy. Sourdough is the story of Lois Clary, a software engineer in the Bay area, who inherits a magical sourdough starter.⠀
Sourdough is such a strange book. It’s an easy read (or listen) that definitely left me craving bread. The characters weren’t super complex or well-developed, it was more like reading an eccentric fairy tale with a very techie aspect to it. That said, it’s just so unique and unexpected, I really had no idea where things were going or how Sloan created these ideas. The writing is enjoyable, and while it sometimes maybe got a little too weird, that’s part of what made it so much fun. I honestly cannot think of another book to compare Sourdough to, and I think that alone makes it a worthwhile read. I actually own Sloan’s earlier book, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, so once I finish unpacking and find my copy, I’ll definitely be making time to read that one as well.
Even from the time I decided to request a copy of A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne to review I wasn’t quite sure how I’d feel about it. The fact that the book was described as a “psychodrama” intrigued me, but considering my previous reading experience with Boyne was his popular YA historical fiction The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, it felt weird to pick up this adult novel about an ambitious novelist, Maurice Swift, and the people he takes advantage of to succeed. Honestly, after finishing A Ladder to the Sky, I’m still not quite sure what to think!
I really hated the novel’s main character, Maurice, and at times, actively disliked reading the book, but I can’t help admiring the storytelling that goes into that, even if I’d never want to read it again. This is a novel about a really bad person, and Boyne does a fantastic job capturing the desperation and horror of the situation. A Ladder to the Sky is quiet, unsettling, and evil all mixed together. It starts off not seeming that bad–or interesting–but as time progresses things get worse and worse. The complexities of all the characters are well-captured. I spent much of the novel unable to decide how I felt about it, but ultimately, A Ladder to the Sky is a book I hated so much I ended up admiring it? Honestly, I still can’t decide if I could ever pick up another Boyne after this one, but at the same time, I think everyone should give this book a try. Conflicted, indeed.
Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami is definitely an intimidating book–it’s nearly 700 pages and took me about 6 weeks to read–but I can never resist a new Murakami (though I still have quite a lot of his previous work to get to!) This novel is the story of a newly divorced painter in his 30s who escapes to a mountain home of a famous Japanese artist only to find a hidden painting. Of course, there’s a strong element of magical realism and strange things start to happen. There’s a ringing bell in a deep pit. There’s a wealthy recluse who wants to hire the painter to do a portrait. And there’s so much more.
This is definitely the kind of book you have to read to really understand and even then, I’m not quite sure I did. It’s strange and mystical and while I didn’t have an emotional connection to the story, I always enjoyed reading it. There are definitely many thought-provoking moments and my major complaint is the fixation on her chest that a 13-year old character has–it’s almost like it’s supposed to be funny, but it’s not. Overall, I loved the way that Killing Commendatore floated between the real and the surreal. I swear, someday I’ll finally read all of Murakami’s books.
Book releases at the end of December are so awkward, but as soon as the beginning of January rolled around and my library hold came in I was thrilled to pick up the audiobook of Evermore by Sara Holland, the sequel in a duology that began with Everless. Although the first book wasn’t perfect, I enjoyed the narrator and the story ended with a cliff-hanger which meant I absolutely had to pick up book 2. I won’t give any spoilers for book 1, but basically it takes place in a world where time is money and you pay with your blood.
Evermore picks up exactly where Everless left off as Jules, the main character, works to learn the truth about her world and tries to protect those closest to her. If that sounds a little generic, it’s because it is. Unfortunately, the blood as currency aspect which I found really neat even if it’s not 100% original plays a much smaller role in this novel and it reads a lot more like a generic YA fantasy. I still enjoyed Jules’ voice but the story moved slowly and felt repetitive at times. Even though I gave both books 3 stars, I definitely preferred the first one. That said, I was still happy to see how things turned and I’m glad I picked it up. It was also so nice to read a fantasy series with just two books!
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And that’s it for January! It wasn’t my most productive reading month, but I did read what will likely become one of my favourite books of the year–and had a lot of other things going on in my life (work trip to California, moving into my house)–so I definitely still consider it a successful month.
What was your favourite book in January? Have you read anything by Claire Legrand before?