I started writing this post back at the beginning of August, hoping it would be released into the wild at the appropriate time. But things don’t always turn out how you planned it, so here is An Absolutely Massive Wrap-Up. I’m including everything I’ve read up until now, so there are a lot of titles, hence why these reviews are really short. If you’d like to know some deeper thoughts on the books, let me know the ones you’re interested in by leaving a comment!
Best get on with it, then…
The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris
A very enjoyable read, but fell a little flat for me overall. I think because I listened to the Norse Mythology audiobook earlier in the year, I felt like this book didn’t really add anything for me, not to the characters or the stories. So, good, but Gaiman does it better.
The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera
This was a fascinating high fantasy that centres on two best friends who become lovers in a crumbling Eastern-inspired empire. The fact that this is a lesbian fantasy is great, and it really is beautifully written. Highly recommend, and I have got my eye on the sequel coming out in October.
Oranges are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson
With Winterson’s rich writing and the slightly disorientating turns she takes, this novel-memoir is as fascinating as the many discussions about it suggest. It is heartbreaking at times, but also there is a warmth to it as she tries to navigate the life that exists around her through family, religion and sexuality. The grim realities of very poor working-class life at that time are fully captured and transport you as much as the dreamscapes and fantasies that are scattered throughout.
The Bear and the Paving Stone by Toshiyuki Horie
It is possible I will do a blogpost about Japanese writing at some point, as this book is a fascinating contrast to most Japanese books I’ve read in that it feels very Western. The subjects of the short stories in this collection do carry that Japanese focus with things like memory and legacy featuring in each of the stories to varying degrees. I enjoyed each story equally, although I found the title story particularly interesting and endearing.
Alice by Christina Henry
I was not expecting to love this as much as I did! I devoured this book and absolutely loved the twist on the Alice in Wonderland story. Violent and fantastical, this is a very adult version of Alice and one that really plays with madness. Also, possibly the best version of the Cheshire cat – love him!
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Another brilliant read from Ness. He really understands how to get into the heads of his characters and take them on journeys that show their growth and their struggles to come to understand themselves and the world around them. Todd still feels like a typical thirteen-year-old boy while being in a completely bizarre situation – on another planet where all men can hear each other’s thoughts and the animals can talk. There’s action and emotion and that ending got me hyperventilating for a good while.
Quarantine by Jim Crace
This is one of those books you have to think about a lot after you’ve read it to fully understand how you feel. It is simply about several people who are in the desert: most for their religious quarantine, including a man named Jesus. This interpretation of the 40 days of Jesus is still, however, oddly compelling, even though the majority of the cast are thoroughly unlikeable. It is well worth the read in contrast to the biblical story, but didn’t quite have the resonance I think I was expecting from such a story.
The Nine-Chambered Heart by Janice Pariat
I loved this quiet, short book and it’s telling of a woman’s life from the perspective of nine people who loved her. The writing is beautifully simple and almost poetic in its quality, and yet unique for each character. I absolutely adored it and highly recommend it.
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
I listened to this on audiobook and the narration truly was fantastic (Adam Sims). I didn’t really know anything about the story going into it, only that it was a classic and would have me crying my eyes out. Which I dutifully did. Even though it was originally written in the 60s, it is just as relevant today. And perhaps that’s the most heartbreaking part about it.
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
Any book that can get me crying in the first 90 pages and keep me emotionally invested right until the end (where I proceeded to cry some more for good measure) is something very special. The story unfolds and intertwines with the questions: what would you do if you knew the exact day you were going to die? What choices would you make? What directions would you go? I loved it.
Three Cubic Feet by Lania Knight
A slim coming-of-age novella about a boy in the conservative mid-west. The characters were compelling enough to pull me through, but it lacked depth (given its short length) and didn’t feel original in any way. Solid, but not special.
Nod by Adrian Barnes
Bonkers, incredibly clever and horrifically creepy. This gave me so many vibes of J.G. Ballard, John Wyndham, Lord of the Flies, The Walking Dead, but it was still completely its own. Loved the wordplay throughout and the horror was just enough to keep me on edge. Some odd moments, but ultimately very good.
The Proof by Cesar Aira
Another very short one, and truly bizarre. An allegorical commentary on Communism and it’s appearance in South America (Argentina, specifically). Beautifully written and highly engaging, but that ending is truly surreal…
Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney
Loved Rooney’s writing style throughout this, and was thoroughly engaged with the characters and the complicated messes of their lives. How they tangle themselves together and how Frances tries to navigate through it all is believable and understandable. However, the ending left me with the odd feeling of ‘well, what was the point of all that?’ which affected my feeling of the whole thing.
The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
I love Atwood, but her brand of satire didn’t quite work for me in this one. For me, this feminist retelling of the Odyssey, although cleverly done, didn’t really give me any sympathy for any of the female characters at all. That Helen was, once again, painted as a slut, kind of ruined it, as I expected greater complexity from such a gifted writer and thinker.
Scythe by Neal Shusterman
A lot of high praise for this one, but it fell a little short. The second half was a lot more compelling than the first, but this meant we lost a lot of the depth that would have helped it along – a lot gets packed into that second half! Overall, it just felt like a weaker, YA Logan’s Run (go watch the film if you don’t know what I’m talking about!).
H(A)PPY by Nicola Barker
This is high literary at its highest, so I know it won’t be for everyone. But I absolutely adored it. The wordplay in both lyricism and content and actually how it looks on the page is utterly brilliant and the deeper concepts underlying every action, every word is just sublime. Very cerebral, but worth the effort.
A Thousand Perfect Notes by C.G. Drews
Didn’t expect to love this YA contemporary as much as I did, as it’s not really a genre I have much interest in. But I absolutely adored this. Beck is such a sweet, broken character and his growing relationship with free-thinking, hippy August is crafted so well. It’s not always an easy read (TW: abuse), but it is just wonderful.
Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson
I love Winterson’s writing and her play with magical realism and fairy tales, but I’m not sure how I felt about this one. The idea of the stories between the spaces in our lives, the fantasies that live beneath the surface, was beautifully done, but it didn’t always feel like I could hold onto the story overall. This might be one to go back and reread.
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Interesting, and gave some insight into the refugee crisis and migration as a whole from a very interesting perspective. I wasn’t a huge fan of the writing, however and so I didn’t feel fully engaged with the characters or the story.
The Ask and The Answer by Patrick Ness
Second in the Chaos Walking trilogy and … damn it got dark! So good though, and I’ll definitely get the third one read by the end of the year.
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
A re-read! And, weirdly enough, I didn’t actually review this at all when I read it last year, even though it was one of my favourite books. Funny, endearing, queer historical romance adventure that just gives me the biggest smiles and warmest feels.
A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman
I love Winman’s writing. A quiet, almost magical-realism story that punches you right in the feels. Lyrical prose that sneaks into the minds and voices of her characters until they feel alive. Stunning.
The Cruel Prince by Holly Black
After my disappointment with Strange the Dreamer, I have another over-hyped book that let me down hard. The best way I can describe it, is a poorly written attempt at Game of Thrones enacted by a group of magical playground bullies. I was expecting a much richer, more lush story, but that was not what I got. Disappointing: will not be getting the sequel.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
From the ashes of disappointment comes this. Read it. It’s perfect. Read it.
What a rollercoaster ride, huh?! Some of my best reads of the year, and some of my worst. As I said, do let me know if you want a more detailed review of any of the books I’ve mentioned above. There’s some I’d love to go into in more depth, and I promise I’ll try to keep them spoiler free!
And let me know if you’ve read any of them, and what you thought. Love to get chatting with you.
Rather than monthly wrap-ups, I think I’m going to just post stuff every ten books or so, so there’s less pressure to feel like I’ve got to get one of these out ‘on time’. We’ll see how that goes!