Reading Round-up: Jan-Mar

The books/stories in this list are those I thoroughly enjoyed these past few months.

Novels

1. The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
If you’ve been paying attention in the book world for the past six months, then you’re probably familiar with this book. It’s everywhere! Regardless, it sat for a while on my TBR and I kept meaning to get to it. But when I saw it shortlisted for the Nebula, I decided to see what all the fuss was about.

Friends, I kid you not: it is worth all the fuss.

Alix has a way with words which is lyrical, magical and very much fable-esque (which is absolutely my jam). In fact, this is one of the many reasons this book works so well. I don’t think it could have been written in any other style and done a good job of transporting the reader into the story. On many levels this book reminded me of Laini Taylor’s Strange the Dreamer (which I also reviewed gushed about here), from the writing, down to the characters – especially the characters.

This is portal fantasy, with all the magic of doors, the written word, and love in all the ways it is (and isn’t) expressed.

I could say this book is about how one girl’s effort to connect with her father leads her down a rabbit hole (read: Doors) of secret societies and immortal beings flitting through worlds with all the nonchalance of cats and I would be right. But it’s also the story about her parents and the hope they cling on to in the face of overwhelming hopelessness.

2. The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay
My introduction into horror literature was through Stephen King (there’s no escaping the King!) back when I was thirteen, and I promptly spent the subsequent years of my life devouring his back catalogue. But recently I’ve been wanting to branch out, explore what other new voices there are in the genre, and my quest lead me to this gem.

In this fine modern horror piece, Paul turns a home invasion (which is in and of itself horrific) into something bordering on madness. A vacation by a family of three quickly turns into a nightmare when they are invaded by four assailants fanatics(?) bearing crudely-made, hellish-looking weapons. Fanatics are scary not because of their unwavering conviction in their beliefs (note that this does not always have to be religion) but the lengths they’re willing to go to convince you, or force you to their side, and these people do go to some extreme lengths (whatever you’re thinking, it’s not it). Even more heart-wrenching are the sacrifices the victims have to face as they slowly realize that this shit is serious. And when the ball drops, you shudder with horror because you realize: it could happen to you.

Mr. Tremblay raises several disturbing questions which he doesn’t attempt to answer; he gifts you, instead, with a window into the heads of each character, including the antagonists, so that you are forced to answer these questions yourselves. A fantastic read.

3. Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
One word: mind-bending. Have you ever felt new neural pathways forming in your brain? Because that’s what happened to me as I read this book. It is science fiction in every sense of the genre. What initially seems like classic space opera, complete with a dying earth, and the last vestiges of humanity searching for a habitable planet, quickly becomes a masterpiece of creation, evolution, survival, and a philosophical exploration of what happens when a human mind welds with an electronic construct and lives for so long that it is no longer human.

4. The Hunger by Alma Katsu
Most Americans are familiar with the tale of the unfortunate Donner Party, back in the days of the great American expansion. I’m not American so I wasn’t, not until a few months ago when I caught an Infographics Show about it on Youtube. So when I read the blurb for this book, and saw that Miss Katsu was addressing this but with a horror spin, I was immediately intrigued.

We follow several characters on this doomed journey through the harsh plains of the Wild West. This book has the feel of a sunny day which slowly turns overcast before devolving into a hellish downpour of rain. The book does not waste time in establishing the main horror: there is something haunting their trail. And when children start to vanish one by one, the cracks start to show up. Worse is when the weather turns harsh and the people start to starve and we see that for all of humanity’s supposed “civilization” we quickly turn to animals when starved, scared and desperate, and Miss Katsu does a damn fine job of documenting this – several times I had to remind myself I was reading fiction. But then, who’s to say this isn’t what actually happened?

5. Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie
The title of this iconic revenge novel by Mr. Abercrombie is taken from that famous, if not cliched quote by Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” And boy, is that dish served really well here.

We follow a host of characters in this book, but they all are in one way or the other pawns used in Monzecarro’s quest to avenge a very awful grievance. She’s been wronged, you see, betrayed by a man she gave her all for, a man she won kingdoms for, and she will do anything to make him pay. It’s quite the irony when she recruits her former mentor to aid her in her quest for revenge – a man who she herself betrayed! But this is grimdark and there are no high horses here. Only desperate vagabonds in tough situations. Desperate vagabonds with long memories.

Through his unparalleled stellar characterization and snappy dialogue, Mr. Abercrombie takes a tired revenge plot and brings it to life. His characters, for all that they’re cold bastards, are bastards you want to know, and maybe sit down and have a drink with, but be careful with that drink – someone might have sprinkled in some additives.


Short Fiction

Things Boys Do by ‘Pemi Aguda

A Study in Shadows by Benjamin Percy

Ngozi Ugegbe Nwa by Dare Segun Falowo

Flashlight Man by Merc Fenn Wolfmoor

Rat and Finch are Friends by Innocent Chizaram Ilo

The Sycamore and the Sybil by Alix E. Harrow

The Mermaid Astronaut by Yoon Han Lee

The Ordeal by M. Bernado

Giant Steps by Russel Nichols

Best Books I Read in 2019

As of this writing I’ve read some forty-odd books (all the while trying to stay afloat in medical school and also write! As you can tell I don’t have a life). Of these titles some were good, some were okay, and some absolutely blew my mind.

These are just the books I read, not all of them were published in 2019 (just 2 of them actually)

In no particular order, here they are:

The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

This is the third installment in the Winternight Trilogy and by far the best book of the three. I find myself at once trying to savour each page and also read as quickly as I can to find out what happens next. A very satisfying ending to Vasya’s story, one which I will be reading again.

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

This book, my goodness! Where to start? The world Laini Taylor creates here is fantastical, mythical and so deeply realized that I lost myself completely while reading this, and it has been a long time since I had that happen to me with a book. Lazlo is such an endearing character. It’s got books, a magical city, blue-skinned gods! And the prose is simply bewitching.

Also, whoever said third person omniscient (headhopping) is outdated clearly has not read this book. Seriously it’s a masterclass in this POV.

Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor

The sequel to Strange the Dreamer is even better! I ate this book up in a day, flying through the pages, waiting to find to what comes next. Laini Taylor made me so invested in the characters that I empathized with every one of them (even a certain little tyrant!) You come to understand that there is no pure good or evil and everyone is a product of their circumstances. I mean, just like in real life. A brilliant conclusion to this fantastic duology.

The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi

This book, which was Miss Oyeyemi’s debut, remains one of my favourite works of hers. It’s the one book I read every year and find something new with each reread. It tells the tale of a biracial child and the disturbing friend she makes on a trip to her hometown in Nigeria. Two of my stories (coming in 2020) were directly inspired by this book and I have no doubt it will continue to inspire me for the foreseeable future.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Mr. Gaiman, in my eyes, can do no wrong. This dark fantasy story is a very refreshing read. Here a middle-aged man returns to his childhood home and recalls interesting (forgotten) events from his childhood. This book spoke to me on many levels, and I personally saw it as a commentary on that oh-so-magical period of our lives called childhood, and how, as we grow into cynical, rational adults, we forget. I read this book twice; the first time as a reader, and the second time as a writer, pen and paper scribbling away. On the second reread, I noticed Neil Gaiman never mentioned the name of the narrator. He wrote 50,000 words without telling us the name of the main character. It was cleverly done. Very good, Mr. Gaiman, very good.

Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter

A boy seeking revenge against a class of pompous noblemen. Oh, and there’s dragons. And it’s Africa-based. Need I say more? Evan Winter’s debut is electric. His writing is that of a seasoned master. Trust me, you’ll be doing yourself a favour if you read this book.

Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie

This is an explosive conclusion to this series (First Law). Joe Abercrombie lives up to his title of Lord Grimdark. Everyone is a bastard in this book, and I love them all for it. I actually listened to the audiobook for the entire trilogy, and Steven Pacey did such an awesome job of narrating. He really brought the characters to life – especially Inquisitor Glokta. That lisp!