As you can tell, I primarily focused on reading poetry for November, and I managed to finish quite a few collections I’d been looking forward to. I also squeezed in a few novels, but I’m pretty far behind on my 2018 TBR despite having read over 130 books. There are just so many exciting 2018 releases, but we’ll see how many more I manage to get to.
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I really loved the first couple books I read by Lauren Oliver (Delirium and Before I Fall) but nothing else has quite lived up to those. However, her writing is both easy-to-read and beautiful, so I’m always willing to give it another try, which is exactly why I picked up her latest novel, Broken Things–and I actually really enjoyed it! This book tells the story of Mia and Brynn, whose best friend Summer died five years ago, and everyone thinks they killed her. On the anniversary of her death, both girls are back in town, reunited and determined to figure out the truth.
I thought the pacing and writing of Broken Things was great. There were just enough details to keep me interested without bogging down the flow of the story. There was also a good element of mystery that kept me guessing, although I didn’t find the ending to be super satisfying. That said, each character was unique, and I found aspects of both Mia and Brynn I could relate to. The story had this magical (but not fantastical) atmosphere to it, which made the characters (and me) doubt what was real. Broken Things is definitely not my new favourite Lauren Oliver book, but it has given me the motivation/inspiration to continue reading her books and I’m excited to see what is next.
[Redacted] by Trista Mateer is the second collection of poetry I’ve read by the author, whose The Dogs I Have Kissed, I really enjoyed last year. [Redacted] is a compilation of everything Mateer wrote in April 2016. It started as the National Poetry Month’s poem-a-day challenge, but Mateer expands it to include handwritten poets, tweets, etc. I adored this mix of poetry and prose. It was filled with emotional and despite how brief it was (about 60 pages) I just loved reading it. The poetry is accessible and powerful, it’s a very confessional, raw style of writing. My main complaint about [Redacted] is just that it’s too brief and I wanted more. I’ll definitely continue to pick up poetry collections by Mateer in the future.
Unlike many people, I didn’t have a lot of expectations going into An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green because I have never watched this YouTube channel, and while I have enjoyed books by his brother, John Green, I know much about this book prior to reading it. This is the story of 23-year-old April May, who lives in New York and stumbles across Carl, a giant sculpture, on her way home from work. She makes a short video about it with her friend Andy, and when it turns out there are dozen of Carls who have mysterious appeared all across the world, April’s video goes viral and she becomes an overnight celebrity.
An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is all about the many ways that April’s life changes when she garners overnight fame, and the technology aspects are certainly relatable and feel current, especially given that Green has been made so famous by social media. Green’s writing was easy to read, and I enjoyed April’s voice, but I just didn’t care much about the story and ended up listening to a lot of it on audiobook. I wish that the supporting characters in the story had a bit more depth, but I appreciated all the detailed science elements, it really felt like Green was trying to write a plausible story. I thought there were some intriguing elements to the story, but I was really disappointed by the ending, only to find out there’s actually going to be a sequel. I’m sure that will help fill in some of the gaps, but I’m still undecided about whether or not I’ll bother to picking it up.
It took me a year to pick up The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur because I enjoyed but didn’t fall in love with her debut collection, Milk and Honey (reviewed here). I feel pretty similar about this followup. There are some beautiful moments, and the floral imagery as well as the poems about immigration and her mother, are quite strong, but there are also quite a lot that are not at all memorable. This is definitely a collection that I would have loved as a teenager, but a decade and a half later, I enjoyed it, but it won’t become new nightly reading for me. I’m certainly still intrigued to continue to read Kaur’s writing and excited to see how she grows as a poet over the coming years.
I’ve read quite a lot of books by Linwood Barclay and always enjoyed them, so when I saw Jacket Man, a 30 minute audiobook/short story, for loan at my library it was an easy decision to listen to it. This is a really short, short story–apparently the written edition is only 16 pages long, and it features Sam, who is approached for directions to the airport by a mysterious Italian man who then offers to sell his some luxury coats. That’s basically all I can say since the story is so short, but it was well-written and well-paced, I just didn’t quite get the payoff I normally expect from a Barclay story. There’s a fun twist, but I just wanted more. I’ll definitely continue to reach for Barclay’s full length fiction, and if you’re looking for suspense thriller mysteries, I highly recommend you check him out!
Honeybee by Trista Mateer is a collection of confessional poetry about letting go and trying to get over somebody. I loved the previous collection I read by Mateer, [Redacted], so I had pretty high hopes for this one, but I just didn’t love it quite as much. The poems could be a little repetitive, and just not as emotional or intense as I expected, especially when repeated. The writing still is straightforward and honest, and despite its flaws, there are some powerful moments and beautiful imagery. Mateer is definitely a poet I will continue to watch in the future.
I started reading Pillow Thoughts by Courtney Peppernell back in March, but somehow got distracted, so I returned to it in November and began again, and I’m so glad I did. A blend of poetry and prose, Peppernell’s debut collection focuses on love and heartbreak. There are some beautiful images, and the poetry is confessional, sharp, and observant. It’s filled with emotion and easy to read. Definitely recommend for fans of Amanda Lovelace and Rupi Kaur, and I certainly plan to pick up more books by Peppernell (I even did in November!)
I’ve definitely read more short story collections in 2018 than in previous years, and while I’ve found some great new authors I’m excited to read more from, I’ve also realized how long it takes me to read short story collections and I rarely love them. Unfortunately, such was the case with Unbroken edited by Marieke Nijkamp, which includes 13 stories featuring disabled teens.
I reviewed each of these stories as I read them (you can find that here) so I won’t go into too much detail, but basically, there were ones I liked, ones I didn’t care for, but mostly I didn’t have an emotional connection to the stories, it just felt like I was being told things. As a result, overall it was just an okay collection. That said, my favourites were Dhonielle Clayton and Corinne Duyvis. I didn’t expect Unbroken to be such a mix across genres (contemporary, science fiction, etc) so that was interesting, and a great reminder that diverse characters can feature in any story, but I think I just prefer to stay immersed in one story, or at least one genre. I don’t know, I wanted to like Unbroken better than I did, but at least I found a couple authors I am interested in reading more from.
I had been looking forward to reading A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi since I first heard about it, which is a bit unusual given that the only books I’ve read by Mafi were middle grade fantasy (although Furthermore did make it on my Top 10 Books of 2017 list). In contrast, Mafi’s latest novel is a young adult contemporary, set the year after 9/11, when a teenage girl Shirin, who wears a hijab, has to deal with high school life during a time when those around her are not very tolerant or accepting.
I know A Very Large Expanse of Sea pulls from Mafi’s own experiences growing up, and that is obvious in the writing and the emotion of the story. I really appreciated Shirin’s voice, and Mafi does a great job showing that nobody is just one thing. I like that Shirin was so into fashion and breakdancing, and I loved the interaction between her and her brother, I thought Mafi did a great job capturing family dynamics. I only wish the main storyline/conflict had less to do with romance, which although realistic, was a much heavier focus in the book than I expected. A Very Large Expanse of Sea is well-written and easy to read, but doesn’t have the poetry to it that Furthermore and Whichwood did. That said, I really loved the story and enjoyed hearing from a narrator who was a bit different than I usually find in contemporary YA. I’ll definitely continue to reach for Mafi in the future–although it’s very different than this, it may be time to finally pick up her Shatter Me series.
After enjoying Pillow Thoughts, the next poetry collection I picked up was The Road Between by Courtney Peppernell, and I was definitely hoping that Peppernell continued to show growth and development with this newer collection. Unfortunately, I actually liked this one less than her debut. It had way more prose relative to poetry, compared to the earlier collection, and I just don’t love Peppernell’s prose, which definitely loses the poetic element and tends to fall flat for me. I was underwhelmed by the prose, and since it composed so much of The Road Between, I was underwhelmed by the collection as a whole. That said, I’m still intrigued by Peppernell and willing to pick up more writing by her in the future.
I’m really wanting to read more classics, so picking up Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë was a perfect opportunity to get started on that goal in November. I also figured that this story, set in a house haunted by the past and featuring a revenge story, would be a perfect fall read. I was mostly right, although this book was definitely not what I expected.
Wuthering Heights is the story of Cathy and Heathcliff, and while they grew up together, Cathy decides to marry rich instead, setting up the story of revenge that lasts decades. I found the book really difficult to get into, partly because of the slang, and it was just quite confusing. I had a much easier time when I switched to the audiobook. It’s an unusual perspective because the book is told from the perspective of Mr. Lockwood, who has the story relayed to him by Nelly, who used to work with Cathy and Heathcliff. In that way, you never really get exactly what the supposed main characters are feeling, and it’s hard to know how much you can trust what Nelly says.
I had thought that Wuthering Heights was a love story, but it’s really not in the traditional sense, and the characters are all pretty dark and messed up and not likeable at all. Once I got into the story, I really loved it and how twisted it is. I especially loved the middle third of the book, which focuses on Cathy and Heathcliff. I did find that the last third, which moves onto their children, was slow-moving and that all of the excitement and intrigue had basically already passed. Overall, it’s not my new favourite classic but I’m definitely glad that I picked up Wuthering Heights and I hope I have a chance to get to work by the other Brontë sisters in 2019.
God of Shadows by Lorna Crozier was the last poetry collection I finished during my poetry-reading extravaganza in November. I’m so glad that after owning this collection since it was first released in August, I finally made time for it. Crozier is one of my favourite poets, and her writing is always thoughtful and articulate. These characteristics are especially evident in God of Shadows where each poem is dedicated to the God of a particular object or feeling. There’s less of a personal connection with Crozier’s poetry in this collection, but the imagery and writing are beautiful, I just wanted a a little more of Crozier in the poems. That said, I am always thrilled to pick up another collection by Crozier, and I plan to go back and read/reread all of her works in 2019.
I knew I was spending a week in Havana, Cuba in December so I had to pick up The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway prior to visiting, and I’m so glad I did. It was my first book by the author, but it’s a very short one (just over a hundred pages), and I managed to get the audiobook from the library, which is narrated by Donald Sutherland, and I loved that. I generally listen to audiobooks at faster than 1x speed, but with Sutherland narrating (and an approximately 3 hour book) I listened to it at regular speed just to enjoy the sound of his voice.
The Old Man and the Sea is a fable about an old Cuban fisherman who battles with a giant marlin out at sea. It’s a story about courage and perseverance. Hemingway’s writing is straightforward but he clearly captures the brutal conditions and the emotions of the fisherman. It’s a bit repetitive or slow-moving at times but it has a powerful message. Overall, The Old Man and the Sea is a beautiful, poetic, tale of a brutal battle. I’ll definitely have to read more from Hemingway in the future.
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And that’s it for my November reads! Now how quickly can I get started on December so that I start off 2019 on track? We’ll see…