January Wrap-Up

 

Let’s be honest: the start of 2020 has been a hot mess in regards to my reading and this blog. We’re halfway through February and I still haven’t taken down the virtual Christmas decorations… I think I let the “winter blues” and limited time get to me, as even though I read quite a lot, I couldn’t find the motivation to write about any of it. Now that I’ve finally gotten my shit together: let’s get into a very belated January Wrap-up.
I read 11 books with an average rating of 3.22, which isn’t the best, mostly due to me giving out more 1- and 2-stars this month than I usually do.

           Books Read
 

  1. Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

    I don’t even want to spend time discussing this book: I didn’t enjoy it, it felt amateurish to me and I was actively annoyed whilst reading it. It get’s a mention, because I did spend time with this book this month before giving up and speedreading to the end about ¾ of the way through. I don’t regret it: nothing in this book worked for me, from beginning to end.

    My Rating: 1/5 stars

     

  2. Homesick for Another World by Otessa Moshfegh

    My second 1-star of the month wasn’t on the level of Hex, as I can see how many other people might enjoy it. It just really didn’t sit well with me. In short: was too sexually graphic (for the sake of graphic-ness) for me, which I didn’t expect.
    Basically, this is a collection of 14 stories about lonely people who try to fill the emptiness in their lives with unfulfilling intimacy (or what they think passes for it).
    I’m sure the author had a deeper message in mind, but I personally could not stomach everything that was around the message. Probably not a bad collection if you are comfortable with the subject matter, but a very bad experience for me personally.

    My Rating: 1/5 stars

     

  3. The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling
    I had some of the highest hopes for The Luminous Dead, as both the premise and the reviews I read sounded glorious to me. Unfortunately, I was let down by the execution quite a bit. I have many thoughts on this book, prompting me to write a full post-mortem on it. I recommend you visit that here to read my indepth thoughts.

    My Rating: 2/5 stars

     

  4. The Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall

    My fourth and final disappointment came in the form of The Rules for Vanishing, a YA horror-novel which focusses on a group of teens who play a paranormal game in order to summon local ghostly legend Lucy Gallows. Things of course, don’t go as planned…
    The combination of my spooky mood and this being described as “Blair-witch-in-bookform” drew me in, but the in the end there were to many aspects of the book I didn’t like to compete with the good.

    Like:
    - The format: this reads like a found-footage movie. It has been compared to “The Blair Witch in bookform”, and I can honestly see that.
    - In the first 100 pages, the novel does a great job at setting up the atmosphere and mystery. This part was where I was kind of engaged with the story and if it hadn’t been for those first 100 pages, I’d DNF-ed the book for sure.

    Dislike:
    - Teenage drama
    I hate saying a YA book feels too YA to me, but this one kind of did. The characters were at times in absolutely dire and terrifying conditions, and still managed to be bothered with petty drama and angst. As someone who used to be a teenager before: even teenagers have survival instinct that help you prioritise that shit…
    - Could have been edited down
    The book mostly felt too long to me. I feel like an editor could have shaved off at least 100 pages without losing any substance. For me, that would have made for a more readable, better paced novel.
    - Tropes… loads of tropes.
    I’m beginning to expect it from YA books, but it still bothered me here.

    As a final note: the ending is fairly “open”. Although I don’t mind that in my horror (in fact, I often prefer it), I know it’s going to bother a lot of readers, so I’ll mention it here. If you like your stories to be perfectly wrapped up, with no questions left behind; you’re not going to get that here.

    My Rating: 2/5 stars

     

  5. Sealed by Naomi Booth

    Second to last for my horror-kick this month was Sealed  by Naomi Booth: one of the shorter, but more effective literary horror novels I’ve read recently. This story plays straight into the primal fears of any human, in particular every woman, including my own.
    In a near future America, a new epidemic known as “Cutis” wreaks havoc on the population. Rather than your average “super-flu” however, Cutis takes an even more disturbing approach to claiming victims, as its primary symptom consists of excess skin growth, to the point where skin will cover over every orifice in a patient’s body, suffocating them in the process. We follow heavily pregnant young woman Alice and her husband as they isolate themselves in a remote mountain cabin, in order to safely deliver the child. As time goes by, the looming thread and paranoia of falling ill soon get the better of the two of them.
    Although I felt the start was a bit slow, the end genuinely freaked me out and made me feel uncomfortable, which is quite a rare experience for me. If you’re in the market for some visceral body horror but with a literary twist: this might just be for you. However: I don’t recommend reading this book whilst pregnant (or planning on becoming soon)…  
     
    My Rating: 3/5 stars

     

  6. Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

    Once Upon a River got quite some hype upon release in January of 2019, and has been on my TBR ever since. We start our story on a midwinters night in a small inn near the banks of the river Thames, when a drowned lifeless girl is brought in by a wounded stranger. A few hours later, without any warning, the girl suddenly stirs again, returned from the land of the dead. The novel follows the aftermath of this miraculous event, as three families who were present all lay claim to the girl and her faith.
    although different than I was expecting, I really loved Once Upon a River. For the majority, it focusses heavily on the lives of the characters, rather than the mystery of the little girl, yet it didn’t fall into the trap of boring me, as is often the case with historical fiction about everyday lives. The writingstyle is beautiful and reads very effortlessly, whilst still maintaining this fairytale-like lightly whimsical quality. There is a strong motif of the river Thames that flows through the story, which made for a wonderful link to tie everything together as well.
    I very much enjoyed this story: highly recommended to fans of The Essex Serpent or The Bear and the Nightingale.

    My Rating: 4/5 stars

     

  7. Our Homesick Songs by Emma Hooper

    Our Homesick Songs is a literary historical fiction novel that follows the lives of three generations of the Connor family in the idyllic fishing village Big Running, and the way their lives change when on day, the fish mysteriously disappear.
    I wrote a full review on this book, which can be found here. https://www.thefictionfox.com/post/review-our-homesick-songs-emma-hooper

    My Rating: 4/5 stars

     

  8. The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk

    This tome has been a running project for the past few months. Psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk is one of the most renowned experts when it comes to trauma and PTSD recovery, not just in the Netherlands but worldwide. As a medical student with an interest in this side of psychiatry, but also as a person who has suffered trauma and PTSD in their personal life, this was one of those “bucket-list-reads” for me. It took me quite a while to get through 500 pages of fairly academic text, but I’m very happy I spent the time I did on it.
    I decided not to post a review on my website here, as that wouldn’t feel right to me. I’m not a psychiatrist (not even a doctor yet), so I don’t have the expertise to critique a work like this. You can find my more in depth thoughts on Goodreads, for those interested. Please do take my opinion with a grain of salt as always, as I’m far from an expert.

    My Rating: 4/5 stars

     

  9. Borne by Jeff Vandermeer

    Part of me wants to call this surprise of the year so far. I’m refraining from doing so as first, there is another contester for that title later on in this list that might deserve it even more. And second: I have a lot of faith in Jeff Vandermeer as an author and should have known that he could make something extraordinary out of the story of a woman who raises a bizarre shapeshifting alien-like creature. This was wonderful: the more I read, the more I adored Rachel and Borne, with all their flaws and mistakes. Highly unique in both worldbuilding, structure and execution, and a story that will stick with me for a long time to come.

    My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

     

  10. Last Memoria by Rachel Emma Shaw

    The novel that probably deserves the title of biggest surprise sofar the most is Last Memoria by Rachel Emma Shaw. You may not have heard of it: neither had I until the author approached me with the offer of an ARC. Even though I’ve been very reluctant with accepting ARC, due to my limited readingtime and not wanting to put “reading-pressure” on myself this year; this was one I couldn’t pass up. Something about the premise sounded immediately intriguing to me.
    In a world where Memoria (humans who can steal and transfer memories by touch) are shunned and hunted for their magical ability, we follow one of the last of them, Sarilla, on the run from the king and her own past. Her plans go awry when she runs into Falon, one of her “victims”. This leads the two of them, not just into a high stakes external journey, but one of selfdiscovery on both their parts as well.
    Last Memoria exceeded all my expectations, and is for sure one of the best Indie published novels I’ve read in a long time. If you like character focussed fantasy with a highly original world and magic system that manages to cover the subject of memory and identity in a phenomenal way: this book is for you! As an added bonus: the author is a lovely person, from what I’ve experienced, so I feel zero shame for promoting her here.
    A dedicated full review of Last Memoria will follow shortly. Until then, check out the book on Goodreads and make sure to add it to your TBR.

    My Rating: 5/5 stars

     

  11. Pet Sematary by Stephen King

    Last but not least, we have the book that unexpectedly wrecked me this month: Pet Sematary by Stephen King. Many of you will probably be familiar with this story, as it’s quite the horror-classic at this point, but for those of you who aren’t: here’s a quick summary.
    Pet Semetary follows a family who’s recently moved from Chicago to the more peaceful rural setting of Maine. The only source of disturbance comes from the occasional truck on the two-lane highway running just past their new residence. Everything changes when their pet cat Church is run over by a truck on that very highway, and Louis decides to bury him at the local pet cemetery, a place that has a mysterious reputations for resurrecting it’s deceased occupants.
    I think that I was fairly warned of the disturbing experience I was in for when I picked up Pet Semetary. Having said that, I got so much more from this this book than I was originally expecting. I don’t say this lightly, but this is the most horrifying book I’ve read all my life. Not based on cheap scares or gore (those are generally the horror novels that don’t work for me), and not even for the supernatural aspects so much either. It was the themes of grief and death, and the existential fear and psychological dread that this story touches upon that unsettled me to the core, in a way that I’ve rarely experienced before.
    This is going down as an all-time favourite for sure. Highly recommend, although it’s not for the faint of heart.
    A short review can be found on Goodreads

    My Rating: 5/5 stars

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