So I actually created this very detailed reading spreadsheet for September and I swear it makes me want to read 10x more because I love updating it. Yup. So with that in mind, the first half of the month was great for reading and so I’ve compiled what I’ve read so far before this post gets too long.
Brother was one of the most powerful books I read last year, so I was very interested when I learned about I’ve Been Meaning To Tell You by David Chariandy, a non-fiction memoir/essay/letter to his daughter by the same author. Like Brother, this is a short but incredibly powerful book, with a sharp awareness and honesty about the world. It is a beautiful letter to a daughter, but at the same time, so much more. Of course, it reminded me of Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (reviewed here), although the focus of Chariandy’s book deals more with race and less with feminism. However, like Adichie, Chariandy’s book is bigger than its title. I especially enjoyed the passages relating to Chariandy’s parents coming to Canada from Trinidad as well as his own story of growing up. I also really appreciated Chariandy’s discussion of some of the issues Canada faces, which I don’t often find represented in books. Overall, I’ve Been Meaning To Tell You is introspective, heartfelt, honest and an absolute must-read.
Novels in verse are absolutely one of my favourite formats but even if it’s not a style you normally reach for, you’ll need to make an exception for The Way The Light Bends by Cordelia Jensen. This beautiful, quiet, introspective story is about “virtual twins” Linc, who is artistic with a passion for photography and doesn’t fit in with her scientifically-minded family, and Holly, who was adopted from Ghana and is smart, popular, and basically achieves everything their parents value. The novel is told from Linc’s perspective, as she struggles in school and goes against what her parents want for her, secretly signing up for a photography class.
Novels in verse can sometimes be written like a prose novel but with the lines broken up; The Way The Light Bends is not like that. It’s truly poetic and artistic and beautiful to read. I didn’t always like Linc or support what she was doing, she really makes a lot of bad decisions, but her perspective felt both authentic and complex. This is a really powerful story about family and belonging. That said, there was a storyline regarding Linc’s birth that I’m not sure I was convinced by, and there were no real surprises or twists, despite the fact that some aspects of the story are treated that way. Overall, I thought The Way The Light Bends was a beautifully written story with some very moving moments; Jensen has certainly become an auto-read author for me going forward.
It’s been less than a month since I finished the Lunar Chronicles with Winter, and I’m already missing the world, so of course I had to pick up the followup collection of short stories, Stars Above by Marissa Meyer. Stars Above contains stories from throughout the Cinder universe, both in time and space. Like the rest of the Lunar Chronicles, I listened to the audiobook for Stars Above, which has amazing narration from Rebecca Soler. The book itself contains 9 stories including The Little Android, a Little Mermaid retelling, and Glitches, about when Cinder first moved in with her new family, both of which I had previously read and enjoyed.
I really enjoyed The Keeper, which takes place when Scarlet is a kid and also includes how Cinder was rescued, and Carswell’s Guide to Being Lucky, whichis told from Thorne’s perspective and refers to a story shared in Cress, and I just love his character so this was a lot of fun to read. While the stories of Stars Above are a nice compliment to the series, they don’t have quite the impact of the main books or add much. That said, Stars Above is definitely worth a read, especially since the final story Something Old, Something New is really an extended epilogue to Winter and a very satisfying end that thankfully reunites all my favourite characters, who I miss again already.
Every once in awhile I pick up a book because of the hype, and in the case of What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera, I am so glad I did, because I absolutely adored it. This is the story of Arthur, who loves musicals and is visiting New York from Georgia for the summer, and Ben, an NY native who spent too much time focusing on his relationship with his ex-boyfriend and is now in summer school. Told from Arthur and Ben’s perspectives, What If It’s Us begins with the two meeting at the post office, but not getting names or numbers, but that’s only the beginning of what the universe has in store for them.
Even though What If It’s Us is written by two authors and Ben and Arthur have distinct voices, the story flows together seamlessly. They are both flawed and funny and real. Unlike many books with multiple points-of-view, in this case I actually can’t decide whose perspective I preferred more. There are plenty of moments of laughter and warmth and it just made my heart ache and hope so badly for a happy ending. Although most of What If It’s Us was fairly predictable, it just charmed me so much I loved reading it anyway. I actually did not expect the ending, and really appreciated it. I loved the romance between Arthur, whose awkwardness I could really related to, and Ben, but I also loved all the really strong friendships and family relationships shared. Really, there’s nothing I didn’t love about What If It’s Us.
What If It’s Us isn’t even released yet, I was lucky enough to read an advanced digital copy for review, but just in case you haven’t heard the hype yet, you definitely need to read this book after it is published on October 9th 2018. I will definitely have to look into picking up Albertalli and Silvera’s solo works soon.
I am having a really hard time making up my mind about All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin, which is a well-written book, but absolutely not what I expected. I mean, this is the author previously known for books entitled Something Blue and Something Borrowed, so while the synopsis sounded serious, I still thought it would have a light-hearted element to the story. That was definitely not the case. All We Ever Wanted is told from three perspectives after a teenage boy shares a photo of a girl, passed out and half-naked at a party. The girl, Layla, her dad, Tom, and the boy’s mother, Nina, are all dealing with the situation differently, but none of them know the truth about what the boy, Finch, has really done.
While the main storyline of All We Ever Wanted is a really important one, it just doesn’t seem that original. Giffin crams a lot of different issues into the book, probably too many. However, I think my bigger issue was that I felt a distance from the characters while everything was happening. The book was well-written, and the characters were distinct and complex, but I just always felt like I was reading a book. The only character I really felt a connection to was Nina, as she struggled over what her son did and her own privilege and the role she may have played. I do wish Giffin had skipped the epilogue. It was also hard not to compare the story to Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake, which I read earlier this year and preferred. That said, I did enjoy Giffin’s writing and thought All We Ever Wanted was a well-crafted story that tackles some important issues that would make it a great book for a discussion group.
I’m still working away at a list of 2018 releases which led me to pick up Bring Me Back by B. A. Paris, a mystery novel about a complicated love triangle that I probably would have missed otherwise. Ten years ago, Layla disappeared while on holiday with Finn, and now he’s about to marry her sister, Ellen, when the couple start receiving signs that Layla may still be alive. But is she? And if she is, what happened to her, and what does she want now?
I will say one of my favourite things about Bring Me Back was listening to the Irish and Scottish audiobook narrators. The novel itself had a few too many stock mystery elements like the main character having a critical blackout of time and a threatening countdown. The ending was pretty ridiculous and there are also passages told from Layla’s perspective which really read like generic villain. In fact, none of the characters were particularly interesting or complex. I mean, I liked that there was a dog. Despite my issues, Paris kept me turning the pages (figuratively, since I was listening to an audiobook), and was able to tell a compelling story. Bring Me Back wasn’t a terrible book, and it was engaging, it just wasn’t particularly memorable or original. I have heard Paris’ debut, Behind Closed Doors, is much better, so I may give that a try in the future.
I am pretty picky with my fantasy reads, and I hadn’t even heard of Mirage by Somaiya Daud before it arrived in my mailbox, but I was definitely interested once I read the description. Mirage is a blend of fantasy (mostly) with a bit of unnecessary science-fiction, where the Vathek have taken over Amani’s home planet, and now she is being forced to act as a body double for the much-hated Princess Maram.
Princess Maram is certainly my favourite character of the book. Despite having a paper copy, I listened to the audiobook from my library, and there’s an interview with Daud at the end where she shares that she started with the character of Maram and filled in Amani later, and it wasn’t a surprise to hear after reading the book. While the actual love story is a bit boring, the relationship between Maram and Amani is complex, and Daud really excels at creating a villain who is not a straightforward kind of evil. I really appreciated how Daud explored themes of colonialism and the book is loaded with strong female characters.
Mirage is a very thoughtful read, it was just a bit too slow-moving for me, likely due to the excessive world-building necessary in a first book for a fantasy trilogy, which as I said, isn’t a genre I frequently read. I am undecided whether I’ll reach for book 2, Courts of Lions, but I suspect the action and intensity will really pick up in that book, due to be released in 2019.
* * *
While the second half of my month hasn’t been quite as productive reading-wise as the first (I’ve finally gotten back into the flow of things at work though!) I have finished another handful of books so far, so I’ll be back at the beginning of October with my thoughts on them.
Have you read any of these books? Have you read anything else lately that you’d recommend?