I decided to set some reading goals after all. I’m aiming for a total of 40 books this year which will be a real stretch. I’m also going to try and read one classic a month. I’m currently 2 books ahead of schedule and some great books over the last couple of months has certainly helped.
This Savage Song by V.E. Schwab
Victoria Schwab is a masterful fantasy writer and one of my favourites. She creates great worlds, characters and plots. This Savage Song is set in a dystopian America where people’s violent deeds have taken shape and formed monsters. Most are the stuff of nightmares but August is a rare ‘Sunai’ who looks like a teenage boy and only feeds on the souls of sinners. He becomes an unlikely ally of Kate, a girl who is trying very hard to be something she’s not in order to gain the approval of her Kingpin father. I enjoyed This Savage Song despite usually find dystopians too distressing. However, I’m reticient about reading the second part of the duology, His Dark Duet because I hear it’s absolutely heart-breaking. We’ll see if I can brave it at some point soon. 4/5
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Uprooted won a number of awards when it came out in 2014 but I was mainly drawn to it because it has a dark fairy-tale theme. The plot revolves around a valley where a seventeen year-old girl is taken by the Dragon every ten years. It’s not a spoiler to reveal that the Dragon is actually a wizard. He is tasked with the duty of holding back the evil wood which threatens to swallow every village in the valley and beyond. The latest girl he has taken to his tower, Agnieszka, turns out to have gifts of her own and might just remind the Dragon of his humanity after centuries of detachment. I enjoyed it but it wasn’t the 5 star read I thought It’d be. The Dragon annoyed me immensely at the start and his character wasn’t really developed. Beautifully written and a gorgeous setting though. 3.75/5
Every Heart A Doorway by Seanan McGuire
This a strange and beguiling little book at just 173 pages. Eleanor West (whose perfume incidentally smells of dandelions and ginger snaps) runs a home for teenagers who’ve stumbled through doorways to other worlds but aren’t believed by their families. These places can be anywhere from Fairyland to the Underworld, but none of the children want to return, so when they do, they long to find a way back “home”. It sounds dark and creepy – which it is – but it’s also quirky, humorous in parts and nicely written. Most of all though, I loved the idea of these doors appearing for the children out of need and sympathy. 4/5
The Bear and The Nightingale by Katherine Arden
The writing here is stunning to the point of hypnotic. It’s a gently moving plot but whenever I picked it up, I didn’t want to put it down again. I’ve rarely come across such beautiful, lyrical prose that is pitched just right, never overdone. The Bear and the Nightingale is the tale of a girl in medieval Rus’ with “second sight” who can see the old spirits living in the house and forest, but which the new Priest has made the rest of the villagers turn their backs on, with potentially disastrous consequences.
I adored the setting at the edge of the wilderness where the winters are all encompassing. The atmosphere Arden conjures is so vivid and yet dream-like. I also loved the main character, Vasya, for her openness, free-spirit and kind heart. This is the perfect book to read wrapped up on a cold, dark night and I’ve just started the sequel, The Girl in the Tower. 4.6/5
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
This 2017 novel is a complete gem. It’s tragicomic in the best way. I would go from smiling broadly to being troubled as we get more and more dark glimpses into Eleanor’s past. Overall though it’s a life-affirming read with lots of little references to everyday life in Britain. Eleanor lives alone in Glasgow and although she works in an office, she avoids talking to anyone. She tells herself she likes it this way because most people are inane idiots. However, it soon becomes apparent that Eleanor is very far from fine. Then a chance event throws her regularly into the path of the affable IT guy, Raymond. I have so much love for Eleanor and this book, I can’t do anything but give it 5/5.
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde was no doubt a genius and it’s terrible that he was born into an era which essentially condemned him to death because of his sexuality. His cleverness radiates from the page. I knew it was the story of man whose portrait ages while he stays youthful, but I didn’t realise the painting also reflects the state of his soul. The beautiful Dorian’s “friend” Lord Henry irritated me immensely with the way he constantly shows off his intellect and I started to think Wilde must have been the same. I enjoyed the book a lot more when I read that in his autobiography, Wilde said Lord Henry was what the world thought he was like, while in reality, he was akin to the much more reticent painter, Basil Hallward. The Picture of Dorian Gray is essentially a morality tale and watching an innocent become so thoroughly corrupted isn’t to my taste. Although I can appreciate it’s a great work, in terms of personal enjoyment I’m giving it 3.75/5
Have you read a book you’d give five stars to this year? Can you recommend another book set in Russia?