It’s been quite a while and I know that 'summer revamp' never got off the ground. But life happens and sometimes it just keeps happening and happening. In between my last post and this one I have made some life changes, but of course I'm still reading and I still want to write about books on the Internet. It’s the start of a new year and there’s a lot of ‘new’ stuff in my life, so why not start a new phase on this blog? I don’t know what exactly this new phase will bring, in life or on this blog, but autumn is a nice time to start fresh regardless of a lack of actual plans. Today is not the day for a personal post, though. Today, like most days on this blog, is about books.
Last year I shared a summer book report as a way to kick of a new year here on the blog, so I’ve decided to keep up with the tradition. Instead of a ‘Back to School’ Book Report, it’s a Back to Blogging Book Report. Summer is officially gone away, in the blink of an eye as always. It’s time to swap exciting books of adventure and romance and heady feelings for darker tales of intrigue and drama and twisted feelings. But first let’s look back at the books I read over the long summer hiatus.
I read 16 books this summer, though the number could be more or less depending on when you mark the start of summer. It wasn’t the best summer of reading, but it was still perfectly respectable. Of those, 6 were read on holiday in Mykonos and although I did read during my other travels, those books read in Mykonos made up myonly true holiday reading experience of the summer. Nothing can compare to reading in the sunshine on an island holiday. I even prefer it to beach reading on the Cape, usually my most prolific reading holiday—though this year, I had to skip our Cape Cod trip so I don’t have reading stats to compare to Mykonos.
Of the books I read over the past few months, the ones that stand out as worth of writing about here on the blog were all read on holiday/while travelling. This may have something to do with how hectic my life has been—I’ve only been able to really immerse myself in a book when I can escape from the stresses of my every day life. Adulthood is distracting.
Looking at the list of my summer reading, one thing is clear—this was a summer of fantasy. Twelve of my summer books were fantasy or magical realism. I do love magic in stories, but I think this autumn I should make more of an effort to diversify. I also need to move away from re-reading and focus on reading new books, preferably new releases even. With the whole summer leading up to Cursed Child, I did want to add some extra Harry Potter into my life but I also need to step away from those books this autumn as this summer was the second time I read books 1-3 since January—though I am still working on the blog series on Harry Potter, so re-reading wasn’t wholly self-indulgent.
Summer Reading 2016
The Muse by Jessie Burton
If I had to choose a favourite read from the summer, it is probably The Muse. I read it in a single day in the sunshine in Mykonos and it lent itself well to that very specific reading experience—the hot, island sun allowing an easy transport into a story of passion and art partially set in a summer of heavy, heady heat. It is a novel about art, both artistic inspiration and artistic identity. Told in two separate storylines, with some mysterious intertwining, The Muse follows first a Trinidadian immigrant and poet in London, 1967 who works at an art gallery as a typist. When an entrancing and mysterious painting is brought to the gallery, Odelle and her mentor Marjorie Quick are keen to discover the story behind it. This investigation into the painting introduces the second and larger storyline following the creation of the painting itself during the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. That story follows Olive Schloss, the daughter of a renowned art criticwho paints in secret, and the Schloss family’s involvement with a revolutionary young man, Isaac Robles, and his half-sister Teresa. The political tensions meld with the artistic tensions as Olive finds inspiration in her first love affair tangled up in Spain’s political turmoil. Burton weaves the tale of passion and intrigue and art with a light touch that effortlessly glances at the melodrama and the artistic sensibility in well-measured juxtaposition. It wasn’t a book that left me in awe of great questions or puzzling too long over the intrigue, but it was a quietly enjoyable read all the same.
All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
This is a weird book, but it’s charming and captivating in its weirdness. It’s a great thing to read something so wholly unlike anything else you’ve come across before. The story is about magic and science, nature and technology. It follows Patricia, a witch, and Laurence, a scientist, who become unlikely friends as teenagers. The first half of the book reads like a YA novel, two misfits trying desperately to belong to each other but never quite succeeding. After Patricia and Laurence face off against forces that disapprove of their different-ness (which include some more ominous foes they don’t know anything about yet), they go their separate ways to grow up into extraordinary adults. As much as I enjoyed this book, I was left a bit unsatisfied by the time jumps and flashback devices—I wanted more of the story, also better backstory. When Patricia and Laurence are thrown together again, this time in near-future San Francisco, the story is now one about the end of the earth, how science and magic can come together to save the word. The book is not without flaws, but I enjoyed it from start to finish. Unnecessary mentions of various San Francisco vegan coffee shops, cringe-y sex scene, a few messy plot points, somewhat strained meditation on ethics - but it’s just one of those books that is original and oddly charming.
This Must Be the Place by Maggie O'Farrell
Maggie O’Farrell is a talented writer. I am always impressed by her stories, characters, and words. This story, especially on the surface, is her least relatable, but it did have a good grip once I allowed myself to not like the main character. I don’t usually need to like characters to like a book, but something about Daniel Sullivan, the American linguist married to an enigmatic and reclusive film star, left me somewhat resistant to attempts to imagine his experience deeply and complexly. I overcame this personal setback, though, and found that I was rewarded with an intricate tapestry of intertwining relationships explored with O’Farrell’s impressive psychological sensitivity and beautiful writing. This isn’t my favourite O’Farrell, but I found myself thinking deeply about family and love, and the varied levels of understanding that complicate different kinds of relationships. O’Farrell’s delicate hand elevated what I found to be a somewhat unappealing story to a wonderfully compelling novel, ultimately made more powerful, I think, by my aversion to the central character. She writes some great sentences, cut through with truth and feeling: ‘We must pursue what’s in front of us, not what we can’t have or what we have lost. We must grasp what we can reach and hold on, fast.’
The Diviners by Libba Bray
I initially started this book when it was released several years ago but set it aside after it spooked me on a lonely night when I was just not up for ghosts and murders. It took me a while to return to it, but I knew I would—Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle series is one of my favourites and I was definitely intrigued by how atmospheric the 1920s New York setting felt upon that first reading. Bray’s flair for magical realism with gothic overtones fits this setting and story perfectly. At the heart of the novel is a chilling murder mystery, with a ghostly twist. But the story’s greatest strength lies in Evie, sent to New York to live with her eccentric uncle after causing trouble back home in Ohio. She is a wonderfully flawed, charmingly exuberant despite her naiveté…and she has a special talent that could help solve the string of mysterious murders. There is a lot going on in this book, and at times it felt like a bit too much, too many characters to care about, but I’m excited to continue on with the second instalment (I’ve already started reading because I was so engrossed I was in this story I had to keep reading).
As you can see, even when I appear to have vanished from the Internet - you can still expect to find me in the leaves of a book. Tomorrow I'll be back with an ambitious autumn TBR so there will be more books and more reading. I can never stay away from the books.