Toward the end of the year I tend to wander away from posting about the books I’m reading. This year I’m going to try just posting at the end of each month in an attempt to not run out of steam. So here are the books I read in January.
Howl’s Moving Castle and House of Many Ways by Dianna Wynne Jones: I’d read Howl’s a number of years ago, but had no ideas that it had a sequel. (There’s Castle in the Air, but that’s not quite a sequel- this actually has Howl and Sophie.) Both are utterly delightful. Howl’s of course has that glorious castle, a character I possibly love more than Howl himself. And House of Many Ways has an equally interesting home (what can I say, I’m a sucker for a great building).
This I Know: Notes on Unraveling the Heartby Susannah Conway: I bought this because it was a Kindle daily deal, and a few days later ran across a link to her blog from another blog I read so I bumped it up the reading list. This is a heartfelt, honest book about dealing with grief, and I appreciated what she had to say.
Zeb and the Great Ruckus by Josh Donellan: This is a fun kid’s book. The main drive behind the story is an interesting one, and the book would be useful for teaching about similies as the author apparently never met one he didn’t like.
Stranger Things Happen and Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link : I’m really picky about short stories, and my goodness, Kelly Link is incredible. She creates amazingly detailed, complicated and slightly weird worlds within each story, and I was sorry when each and every one ended. Each stands solid and complete, but leaves the impression that life within the story is going to continue on without you.
We the Animals by Justin Torres : This is an incredibly powerful little book. It’s not long, but the impressions Torres gives of growing up with his two brothers and very young parents are indelible. I’m conflicted over the end section of the book, it skips forward in time and changes tone, and part of me thinks it works, and part of me doesn’t. But the writing is visceral and raw and heartbreaking.
How to Be an Explorer of the World: Portable Life Museum by Keri Smith: This is a fun challenge of a book, encouraging the reader to look at the world around them through explorer’s eyes. I’m excited to put some of the suggested activities to use.
Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier : This book is one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read in quite some time. I’m recommending it to all of the around 10 year olds I know, as well as those adults I know who enjoy great fantasy writing. Peter Nimble is a young blind thief who finds himself in possession of 3 sets of magical eyes and a quest to save a vanished kingdom. There are some excellently played twists, and while some of the plot developments are fairly standard, they are well deployed and feel completely satisfying and earned rather than cliche. The end of the story felt the same as the end of The NeverEnding Story- the thrill that the heroes were going to have so many more wonderful adventures, and even if you didn’t know what they were, the fact that they were going to happen was enough.
The Woodcutter by Kate Delany : This is hands down my favorite book so far this year. It’s so good I can hardly talk about it. I wish I had a bunch of copies to just force on people. This is from the description on Amazon: “Deep within the Wood, a young woman lies dead. Not a mark on her body. No trace of her murderer. Only her chipped glass slippers hint at her identity. The Woodcutter, keeper of the peace between the Twelve Kingdoms of Man and the Realm of the Faerie, must find the maiden’s killer before others share her fate. Guided by the wind and aided by three charmed axes won from the River God, the Woodcutter begins his hunt, searching for clues in the whispering dominions of the enchanted unknown. But quickly he finds that one murdered maiden is not the only nefarious mystery afoot: one of Odin’s hellhounds has escaped, a sinister mansion appears where it shouldn’t, a pixie dust drug trade runs rampant, and more young girls go missing.”
It’s a clever reinterpretation of many well known fairy tales and folk stories- turning them on their head and creating a gorgeous framework where they all exist both as stories and reality. The writing is absolutely impeccable, not a word out of place, and sometimes the turns of phrase are breathtaking. The mystery at the heart of the story is clever, and the main character is such an incredible creation it’s hard to believe he hasn’t always existed. The climax of the story had me sobbing uncontrollably, it’s just so evocatively written. I seriously can not recommend it highly enough, and if you read it and don’t like it then I’m not sure we can be friends.
Mercury by Hope Larson: I have long been a fan of Hope Larson’s work- she’s an immensely talented artist and her illustrations are never flashy; they always serve her story perfectly. This is the story of a young woman in current day Nova Scotia as she attempts to navigate a new school and an absent mother after the loss of their house to a fire. (The mother is away working in another town and wants to move the girl there, she wants to stay.) It’s also the story of the land on which that house stands, and the girl’s ancestors. Larson’s stories tend toward the quiet and personal and this one is no different. The characters are complex and compelling, and the story is sweet and sad and joyful and slightly melancholy all at once.
This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz: I’ve heard a lot about Junot Diaz, and I’ve meant to read his The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao but I’ve heard it’s heartbreaking, so I haven’t. After reading This is How You Lose Her, I’m even more inclined to believe that, and therefore more scared to read it. Diaz is every bit the powerhouse he’s touted to be, this book is like a punch to the face as we are seamlessly pulled into Yunior’s life and then destroyed again and again as he screws up each and every relationship he’s in. It wouldn’t be so bad if Yunior wasn’t so likable, so vulnerable in his mistakes. Along the way, Diaz imparts an insider’s understanding of the culture of immigration, of trying to make a life in a country that offers so much opportunity but isn’t welcoming (even the weather is hostile), of separated families and lonely individuals. There’s a lot of cussing, a lot of sex, but all of those things are Yunior’s experience, and you leave the book feeling like you’ve shared that.
I don’t know that I’ll finish another book before the end of the month (although the new Flavia de Luce novel by Alan Bradley just came out, and I inhale those like candy)- so we’ll tentatively put January’s total at 12.
What are you reading?