October Reads 2017 Part Two

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I shared round one of my October reads a couple weeks ago, but now I’m back with the remaining ones. October was definitely one of my better reading months–it looks like the total was 11 books, and none of them were graphic novels. I haven’t managed to finish a book so far in November, but I’m optimistic I’ll finish the year on a good reading note and make it past my 100 books goal.

After adoring her first collection when it was released in 2010, I was really looking forward to The Dark and Other Love Stories by Deborah Willis. While I also enjoyed these stories, they have a quiet elegance and emotion to them, I found them less consistently magical than the previous collection. Still, Willis’ take on love in its many forms are often beautiful and subtle at the same time, in particular those that deal with coming-of-age, which, while not always feeling realistic, have a dark and surreal beauty to them.

In the title story, The Dark, two girls at summer camp sneak away at night, while in Welcome to Paradise, two teenage best friends start breaking into houses during a boring summer. There are some weird stories, like Girlfriend on Mars about a guy whose girlfriend applies for a reality show where she will be sent to Mars, but they still manage to work. There was some repetition in theme: best female friends doing things they aren’t supposed to, a teenage girl with an uncomfortable relationship with an older male, but the stories felt different enough. It is also always special to read stories set in Canada.

I didn’t care as much for the historical fiction, like Last One to Leave, about a woman who works at a rural newspaper and a Ukrainian immigrant, or most of the stories with older men, like Hard Currency, about a novelist who revisits his homeland of Russia, and Steve and Lauren: Three Love Stories, three short stories that tie together to tell important moments in the relationship of a relationship. I think the issue with these stories is that despite the lovely writing, I really do not care about the characters, and they weren’t dark and mysterious enough to intrigue me either. That said, throughout The Dark and Other Love Stories, Willis’ writing is thoughtful and beautiful, the words feel sharp and carefully placed, so although this collection was uneven for me, I am still glad that I read it.

A semi-recent giveaway win, I’m not sure I would have picked up Be Ready for the Lightning by Grace O’Connell on my own otherwise, but I was intrigued enough by the synopsis–plus, it’s a Canadian author–to give the book a try. This is the story of Veda, who finds herself on a bus in a hostage situation. The story then switches to her childhood in Vancouver, to the bond she had with her brother, despite his violent tendencies, and to the situations that lead to her being on that bus in the first place.

Despite the intensity of the opening scene, Be Ready for the Lightning is definitely a slow-moving story, and the pace meant it took me much longer to read than it should have. I can also be a bit frustrated by books that switch between tenses, I always spend one waiting for what happens in the other, and that was the case here as I waited to find out what happened on the bus. Plus, when I did find out, any “twist” was just disappointing to me. Ultimately, even though the book is well-written and has some lovely imagery, I just wasn’t very committed or enthralled by the story.

A Darkness Absolute by Kelley Armstrong is pretty much the definition of a book I should have read sooner. Not only did I win a free, signed, copy from the author that shipped early, but the first book in the series, City of the Lost, was easily one of my favourite books of 2016. I was so excited for this release, but somehow it managed to sit on my shelf since February. Luckily, I managed to remedy that this month and I’m so glad I did.

I won’t say too much about A Darkness Absolute to avoid spoilers for book 1, but it picks up back in Rockton, an isolated town in Yukon that’s isolated for a very good reason. Everyone who lives there is hiding from something, but their reasons for doing so differ. This book is another reminder that Armstrong doesn’t need paranormal elements to tell a thrilling mystery, and honestly, I greatly preferred it to her young adult thriller I read last month, Missing, even if I may have very slightly preferred book 1. Still, I really loved reading A Darkness Absolute, and the one good thing about waiting to read it is that now I only have to wait until next February for book 3, This Fallen Prey, to be released. If you are looking for a well-written, intense thriller, you need to pick up this series!

I was very intrigued to pick up A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo because 1) that cover and 2) the only book I’d read by the author before was a Cinderella retelling and this book sounded very different and 3) that cover. This book begins with Jess, who is in love with her best friend Angie but when Angie starts dating another girl, Jess releases that there are secrets and cruelty hiding that Angie won’t be able to handle, and Jess has to protect her when the darkness comes.

I have to say that while A Line in the Dark is not nearly as creepy as I originally thought, I really enjoyed it, and it does have some dark moments while having a lot of the honesty and quietness of a contemporary novel. The story focuses a lot on Jess’ art, a little too much, and it draws many parallels between the characters in her comic book and real life. Jess is a complicated and interesting main character, even if I didn’t like her all the time. One thing I didn’t expect about the book was the change from first person (Jess) to third person half way through the book. This is where the book really switches to being more of a thriller, and although I still enjoyed it, it was a bit awkward and I thought Jess’ point-of-view was better written. The ending also felt rushed. Still, even though A Line in the Dark wasn’t exactly what I expected, I definitely enjoyed it, especially when it came to Jess’ unique perspective and the complicated relationships that Lo captures.

October is a great month to read thrillers, so that made it perfect timing to finally pick up A Stranger in the House by Shari Lapena which I’ve been meaning to read since it was released in August. Like Lapena’s suspense debut, The Couple Next Door (reviewed here), this is a domestic thriller, about Karen and Tom, who have a perfect marriage until the day Karen is in an accident and can’t remember what happens, which leaves the police, her husband and her best friend asking questions.

Although I felt like A Stranger in the House was well-written, the perspective seem to keep me at a distance the whole time so I didn’t feel an emotional connection to anyone in the book. The characters also just weren’t very nice, any of them. There were also some frustrating aspects of the story, like the convenience of memory loss and the fact that everyone loved Tom. A lot of the twists were predictable because there are so few characters in the book, but there were also some good surprises. I definitely preferred the ending to The Couple Next Door, things got wrapped up much better and I really enjoyed the final page. Even though I haven’t fallen completely in love with Lapena’s books so far, like her previous book, I enjoyed of A Stranger in the House that I would pick up another thriller by her in the future.

I loved the Promise Falls trilogy by Linwood Barclay but before I read the latest book, I wanted to pick up this novella that I had somehow missed when it was first released. Final Assignment by Linwood Barclay is a Promise Falls novella which tells a short story that wraps up within the pages and can definitely be read on its own.

In Final Assignment, private investigator Cal Weaver is asked to help a wealthy family when their son’s short story–about one kid killing another–lands him in trouble. Cal refuses to help, only to end up back on the case when a kid is found murdered in the exact same way as in the story. This is a really quick read, but it’s well-written and had a few good twists in it. Even though it’s a short story, there’s still character development and a well-paced plot. This book definitely left me excited to pick up the latest Promise Falls novel, Parting Shot, in the near future, and if you enjoyed that series, make sure you don’t miss out on Final Assignment. 

An easy 2017 favourite is The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee. This is a hilarious story (even better on the audiobook!) about Monty, who embarks on a Grand Tour of Europe with his sister and best friend. But there’s way more adventure involved than they could have expected, and it puts everything, including his relationship with the boy he loves, at risk.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is the perfect blend of humour and history. There’s also plenty of adventure, strong females, and an adorable romance. It’s also impossible to read this book and be sad, which is something I greatly appreciate these days. Lee’s writing is filled with heart, and Monty is an awesome narrator with a voice that feels genuine. This is definitely the most fun book I’ve read set in the 1700s, but it’s really like looking back on those times with a modern eye. I’ll miss Monty’s narration but I’ll definitely be reserving the audiobook for the sequel, The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, when it is released in 2018.

Have you ever loved an author but just can’t seem to get into their recent work? Sadly that’s been the case with Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami, as well as his previous two books Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, and The Strange Library, which I reviewed here. I really loved his writing a few years ago, but this latest collection of short stories did not have me fall further in love. Men Without Women is a collection of 7 stories about men who, in various ways, find themselves alone. And I’ve got to be honest––in many of the cases, I just didn’t care.

Throughout this collection, there’s a sense of loneliness and darkness. This is definitely less surreal than many of Murakami’s books, although there are some quirky moments I appreciated. Still, there’s a realism to the emotions, and the writing is precise and thoughtful, ultimately giving the whole collection a depressing tone. Probably my favourite stories is the very first one, about an aging actor who hires a young woman to drive his car. There were no stories I actually disliked, but I just wasn’t swept away into the Murakami universe the way I used to be. Despite that, I would consider him a favourite author and I can only hope I fall back in love with his next book.

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A pretty good batch of books all around, and finally I am out of my reading slump! Have you read any of these? Let me know what you’ve read lately and what you would recommend.

That said I’m not allowed to pick up anymore new books… my TBR stack is a bit out of control, so I better be back mid-month with a ton of books I’ve finished!