July 2020 Wrap-Up
To describe the past 2-3 month as “eventful” would be quite the understatement. That’s why this wrap-up has been such a long time coming. I could spend half an hour typing out an explanation for what happened, but I’ve decided that a separate post would be better for that, so for now I’m focussing only on the books I’ve read in July. Under the veil of better late than never, let’s get into the 8 books I read in July; an overall good reading month, with a few unfortunate duds.
A Peculiar Peril – Jeff Vandermeer DNF at 59%
A Peculiar Peril is Jeff Vandermeers first dive into the YA-genre and follows Jonathan Lambshead, who has recently inherited his grandfather’s large mansion. As he sets out with two of his friends to clear the house, the find more than they bargained for: grandpa proves to have been quite the collector of rare and supernatural objects. This kicks off an absurdist adventure featuring occult societies, hidden enemies, talking vegetables, a talkative disembodied head and much more. I have loved everything I’ve read before this by Vandermeer, mostly for his unique talent to unsettle me on an almost instinctual level. Vandermeers books are hard to classify within a genre, but I’d describe them as fantasy-horror. When you look at his most famous works Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy and Borne, neither have big scary monsters jumping out at you from the pages, yet both share this undertone of almost existential dread that comes from knowing something is wrong, yet not being able to put in in words. When I read the premise of this book, I was really hoping to find that same undertone in here. Honestly: mysterious-house-setting, family secrets and Vandermeers abstract dread sounds like my perfect book. Unfortunately, that’s not what A Peculiar Peril is. Where Annihilation was personal trauma combined with Lovecraftian horror, A Peculiar Peril is Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glasscombined with the absurdist humour of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. A lot of absurdist humour . I’d say the majority of this book is increasingly verbose prose, intentionally idiotic conversations and caricature characters. The story is okay, the characters are “quirky” yet flat, and the world is so bizarre that it can be hard to even comprehend it enough to get immersed. This is going to divide readers into two distinct camps: the ones who like its humour (which I fear is the minority), and the ones who don’t. For me, in the latter group, I didn’t feel this book had anything else to offer. If this is the direction that Jeff Vandermeer is going to go with his YA-works, I think I’ll have to stay away from those for the foreseeable future. It’s an interesting niche-choice, and I have to say it does suit him. Unfortunately, unlike his adult works, this niche just isn’t for me.
The Bass Rock – Evie Wyld Rating: 2/5 stars
Another novel I had high expectations for was The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld. Not only did it have the advantage of being written by a highly acclaimed and skilful author, I had also heard nothing but raving reviews before picking it up for myself. Unfortunately: I didn’t quite share that positive experience. The Bass Rock tells the story of three women in different time periods, connected by the Bass Rock rising from the sea, that all of them look out upon from their coastal Scottish town. Section one follows Vivienne in modern days, inventorying the home of her recently deceased father. We then flash back to the aftermath of WWII, when that same house was inhabited by Ruth, who suffers a nervous breakdown when mourning her brother, who was killed in combat. Section three takes us back even further to the 1700’s, when a teenage girl is being accused and trailed for practicing witchcraft. It’s important to know that these stories are connected more thematically than they are narratively. That theme being violence against women. The novel has a clear message about feminism and is hellbent of getting it across. Unfortunately, that was where the novel fell flat for me. Instead of a novel, I felt like I was reading a pamphlet smacking me across the head with what it wanted to tell me. Everything about this book was overdone to me: stereotypical characters, heavy-handed messages, melodramatic affairs and overwritten prose. Even the gothic elements, which are usually an easy sell for me, felt too clichéd and out of place somehow. It you want a better and more subtle novel by this author, I’d recommend her previous book All the Birds, Singing, which walked the tightrope between doing justice to darker themes and not overdoing it a bit more effortlessly.
Braised Pork – An Yu Rating: 3.5/5 stars
When I think back on Braised Pork years from now, I will most likely remember very little of the story, yet still be able to vividly recall its atmosphere and (cultural) setting. The story begins when Jia Jia finds her husband dead in their small Beijing apartment bathroom, having mysteriously drowned in their bath. Near his body, the only clue Jia Jia finds is a sketch of a half-man, half-fish creature that may have had significance to her husband. What follows is an exploration of their pasts, their marriage of convenience and the mythology that surrounds them. I had mixed, but overall positive feelings about Braised Pork. I loved the setting, atmosphere and the exploration of the character through the use of elements of magical realism. I also loved the authenticity and multi-layered portrayal of Jia Jia’s grief for her husband. Their relationship in life was complex, hence so is their relationship in death. As Jia Jia dives into the murky waters of her husband’s past following the trial of the fish-man, she learns things she never knew about him in life. Throughout her journey, she grieves for the man she knew, the side of him she never got to know, and the future they will never have. Speaking of murky waters, Braised Pork contains a strong narrative motif of water, which plays a big role in connecting different storylines. As if to complement that, the writing often takes on a flowing quality as well, which suits the book, but can also be aggravating at times, as it’ll leave you unsure as to quite where the story is going. Overall I’d recommend you read this if you’re interested in the cultural aspects or the exploration of grief in a little less conventional way. If you’re someone who needs a structured plot and clear answers at the end though, you may want to give this one a pass.
The King of Crows - Libba Bray Rating: 4/5 stars
The Diviners has over the past few years become one of my all-time favourite YA-series, so to see it come to an end with The King of Crows was a bit bitter sweet. To be completely honest, it was my least favourite out of the quartet, yet I've sort of come to expect such from series finales. Don't ask: I've been let down a lot lately. There were a few plot holes, the final battle felt a little too "easy" in some ways, and the villain got a bit cartoony at times. I also missed the New York setting that became sort of synonymous with the series. That being said, I mostly love it for the characters, and that didn't change with King of Crows. I loved my time back with them, and this book, and genuinely feel a bit sad that it's over (which a sign of rare investment for me!). If you haven't yet given this series a chance, please do so! Wonderful characters, delightful humour, heartfelt emotion (especially in book 2 and 3), just the right amount of spooks and a very important and timeless message throughout.
Pet – Akwaeke Emezi Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Pet is Akwaeke Emezi’s sophomore novel, and her first one targeted at a younger audience. Having read Freshwater, I was quite curious to see how her dark, unique and sometimes less than accessible style would translate to this audience. She didn’t disappoint! Pet is set in a future utopia, much like our own world, where all monsters of society have been defeated. Or so the children are told. One day Jam, our black, transgender main character meets Pet, a creature made of horns and colours and claws, who emerges from one of her mother’s paintings. Pet tells her that not all monsters are gone. In fact, there is one hiding right in plain sight. Pet is a wonderful novel that you could probably read many times over, and find new layers each and every time. Based on characters and narrative voice, I’d place it in the middle-grade category, more than YA, yet considering the heavy themes and many deeper meanings behind the story, it’s great for an older YA or even adult audience also. In fact, I think that this is the perfect book to read together: parent/teacher/guardian and child. Not only will you both learn from each other’s interpretation, it would be a great opportunity to start a conversation about many a difficult but important topic. Reading together would also suit the fantastic sense of community and support system this book has. Take Jam’s family, who are probably some of the most supportive people in the real world, let alone on the pages of a YA novel. Overall, Pet is powerful, wise, relevant, raw and heart-warming all at the same time. Emezi’s unique style will possibly alienate some readers, but this novel as a whole will set your brain into motion, challenge your ideas, and invite conversation with others about the world around us.
Latitudes of Longing – Shubhangi Swarub Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Latitudes of Longing first drew my attention with it stunning title and cover upon release, and has been constantly on my radar ever since. For some reason it was very difficult for me to get my hands on it where I live, so it took me a long time to actually get to it, but it was well worth the wait. Shubhangi Swarub has delivered one of the most impressive and ambitious debuts I’ve read in recent years, with this novel that spans generations, continents and the full plane of literary skill. The novel is split up in 4 sections, all set against a different geological backdrop and featuring different characters, yet all connected to another in subtle ways, as well as thematically. It’s difficult to describe what Latitudes of Longing is or what it did to me, as it doesn’t quite compare to many other books I’ve read and loved, but stands truly on its own. It’s the type of book that feels like a journey: an exploration of different continents where you can feel, smell and taste the world around you through Swarub’s words. Along the way you meet characters that feel real enough to be actual encounters along your travels, where you get a glimpse of their personal lives as you pass through. I especially loved meeting Girija Prasad and Chanda Devi, and actually started missing them throughout the rest of the book, as their part ended. That leads me to the only reason I had to knock off half a star: after part one ended, the story failed to grab me for a bit. I couldn’t immediately care for Plato the way I did for Girija Prasad and Chanda Devi, and I wanted the story to return to them. But isn’t that the way most journeys are? You realise the full beauty of a place once you’ve travelled on, and start to long back to it for a while. Only to open your eyes again and start to realise the beauty that is in front of you right now, and appreciate that even more. With the Corona-virus still limiting traveling for almost everybody, I’d highly recommend this beautifully written novel to take you on a journey around the world from the comfort of your living room.
Foundry Side – Robert Jackson Bennett Rating: 5/5 stars
Robert Jackson Bennetts second high fantasy series tells the story Sancia, a uniquely talented thief, tasked with stealing a valuable artifact from one of the most influential merchant houses in town. Unbeknownst to her, this artifact is more powerful than anything she’s handled before. Infused with an ancient magical technology known as “scribing”, this object has the power to do things Sancia has never dreamed of doing. Soon Sancia finds herself chased by mercenaries from the Merchant Houses, navigating unlikely allies and discovering hidden talents within herself that will change her future forever. I have a dedicated review up for this book which can be found here. If you want the short and sweet answer, all I can say is READ THIS. If you enjoy fantasy, sci-fi or anything with a slight steampunky edge (or if you’re looking to get into any of these things): this book is perfect for you. I adored it and can’t wait to continue with Shorefall soon.
The House in the Cerulean Sea – T.J. Klune Rating: 5/5 stars
Last, we come to my most unexpected favourite of the month: The House in the Cerulean Sea. To be honest: I was on the fence about this one, as although it has so many raving reviews, I was scared it just wouldn’t be something I enjoyed. With its pastel cover and secondary tag of “romance” I felt it might be too sweet for my taste. I was oh-so wrong. The best way I can describe The House in the Cerulean Sea is: everything I wanted Every Heart a Doorway to be, but better. I have many thoughts on this book, more than I can quickly sum up here, and I plan on writing a full review, which will be up on Goodreads, as well as here soon. If you don’t want to wait for that, I highly recommend you just pick this book up, even if you’re on the fence like me. It wasn’t too much romance, it wasn’t cringy and it filled me with more emotions than I was expecting for such a short book. Review to come.
That concludes the books I’ve read in July. Since it’s September by the time you see this, you might as well click on to my August Wrap-up if you still want more reading-inspiration. To follow me between wrap-ups, you can befriend me on Goodreads @renee.godding Until next time, happy reading!